He Ran All the Way (John Berry, 1951)

This is my contribution to the John Garfield centenary blogathon being organised by Patti at They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To. Please do visit and take a look at the other postings.

He Ran All the Way 2John Garfield’s last film is one of his greatest – yet it tends to be known more for the shadows which were gathering around him in real life than for those on screen. It was made a year before he died, at a time when the actor was being pursued just as relentlessly as his character is in the film, and it is impossible not to think about the parallels as you watch. Indeed, the whole film carries echoes of the McCarthy witch-hunt and many of those involved with it, including director John Berry and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, were being persecuted along with Garfield. However, there is a lot more to this movie than its historical/biographical context and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who admires Garfield’s better-known films noir, such as Force of Evil and Body and Soul. Sadly it hasn’t as yet had a DVD release in region 1, but I can recommend the region 2 release from Optimum, which has fine picture quality, although there are no extras – not even a trailer. (You can also find the film in segments at Youtube, but I don’t know what the quality is like. )

This is a taut, disturbing noir, with superb camerawork by the great James Wong Howe – I’m including a link to a clip of the opening, on Youtube, to give a taste. It begins in the middle of a nightmare, as the camera slowly pans into a dark, untidy room, in a long shot which finds Garfield’s character, small-time criminal Nick Robey, lying in bed, sweating and shaking. Then his mother roughly wakes him and the two go straight into a row, which is just the start of a waking nightmare lasting for the rest of the film. The title is He Ran All the Way, but for most of the film Nick has nowhere to run.

Here’s a link to a brief clip of the film’s start:

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Scarlet Street (1945) and artist John Decker

I’ve just finally got round to seeing the  film noir classic Scarlet Street, directed by Fritz Lang – one of the many greats I had somehow managed to miss up to now. I’m not going to write a full review, but will be going off at a tangent about the artist whose work is featured in the film, John Decker. However, on the film itself, I will briefly say that I was struck by the darkness and feeling of menace building up all the way through, and especially by the haunting  final scenes, which are justly the most famous. Many copies of the movie around on the web and on budget DVDs are bad public domain prints, but the picture and sound are much better on the remastered version issued by Kino.

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Under My Skin (1950)

Looking at still photographs from this movie, set in post-war Paris and loosely adapted from a short story by Ernest Hemingway, I was expecting film noir. The fact that it stars great actor John Garfield, opposite French actress Micheline Presle (billed here as Prelle), added to this expectation.

Micheline Presle and John Garfield

However, although some scenes do have that moody, brooding quality, and the shadowy black-and-white camerawork adds to this, the film as a whole is a strange mixture of noir and sentimentality. Director Jean Negulesco and screenwriter Casey Robinson both made some great films, but in this one they seem to be caught between two stools, with flashes of brilliance in between scenes which unashamedly manipulate the emotions. As many reviews point out, the main plot  is almost like a reworking of The Champ, moved from the boxing ring to the racecourse.

One of the biggest attractions of this film is the footage showing Paris in 1950. By coincidence, I’ve just seen the new film Julie and Julia, which is also set in the city around this period. But the real black-and-white footage of the post-war bars and streets has a battered quality to it which a movie made in 2009 can’t quite recapture, although that is not to say anything against Nora Ephron’s film, which I liked very much.

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They Drive By Night (1940)

I first saw the Raoul Walsh movie They Drive By Night about 30 years ago. At the time, I remember being slightly startled that long-distance drivers are presented in such an heroic light, and finding it faintly ridiculous when they are shown driving along roads at night accompanied by the sort of insistent, doom-ridden music which might usually mean a battle is about to break out. Watching again after all these years, I don’t find it ridiculous at all, but poignant.  I’m now a big fan of early, gritty Warners movies, with their focus on working lives, and am impressed the way that this film shows just how hard  it was for lorry drivers to make ends meet. 

I was struck now by how much it is a film of two halves. For me, the first half is brilliant – a powerful depiction of the tough conditions facing truckers – while the second  half is a rather weak film noir with a far-fetched crime plot. However, I am aware some critics think just the opposite and love the noir part.

GRITTY DRAMA: Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan and George Raft

Spoilers behind cut