Skip Navigation

Frame by Frame

Posts Tagged ‘John Garfield’

Howard Hawks’ Air Force (1943)

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

John Garfield and John Ridgely in Howard Hawks’ Air Force (1943); click here, or on the image above, to watch the trailer for this film.

There’s no question that Air Force is sheer propaganda — we were in the midst of fighting World War II, a war we couldn’t afford to lose, not only for ourselves, but for the world as a whole — and so the film is brutal, racist, and full of the anger and violence of combat. But it’s also a compelling document of a nation at war, ready to fight to the finish, and of the Hawksian ethos of personal responsibility, professionalism, comradeship, and shared sacrifice. The film’s plot mirrors the beginning of the war: the Mary Ann, a B-17 Flying Fortress, takes off from California for Hawaii on a routine training flight on December 6, 1941. En route, they learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Subsequently the crew mans the Mary Ann through action at Wake Island, the Philippines, and the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Impeccably photographed mixing nearly undetectable — for the period — miniature work with actual combat photography, Air Force is, along with Lloyd Bacon, Raoul Walsh and Byron Haskin’s wartime submarine drama Action in the North Atlantic (also 1943) — one of the greatest films to come out World War II from Hollywood, and one that, even today, in the naturalistic performances of John Garfield, John Ridgely (usually cast as a second lead), Harry Carey, Gig Young and the other players, holds both one’s attention, and remains a compelling drama of exactly what it takes to win a war — blood, sweat, and tears. There are some sentimental moments, and the entire film is shot through with flag waving moments that may make some uncomfortable, but as a document of the time and the era, it remains unmatched, and is yet another example of Hawks’ superb craftsmanship as a director, no matter what the genre.

Force of Evil (1948)

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Abraham Polonsky’s Force of Evil is one of the greatest, and bleakest of all noirs. Made in 1948, just before Polonsky became yet another victim of the HUAC Blacklist, Force of Evil boasts a stellar cast, including veteran heavy Thomas Gomez, the always dependable Roy Roberts, noir specialist Marie Windsor, and is toplined by John Garfield in one of his most memorable roles, as a mouthpiece for the numbers racket who tries to make a quick killing, while keeping his brother, who runs a small time policy office, out of the way of the big boys. Based on the novel Tucker’s People by Ira Wolfert, and immaculately photographed by George Barnes, this is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, and ultimately horrific tales of greed, deception and betrayal ever brought to the screen. And it’s only 78 minutes long.

You can see the entire film by clicking here, on or the image above.

Between Two Worlds (1944)

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Between Two Worlds (1944), directed by Edward A. Blatt, follows a group of people who find themselves on a mysterious ocean liner, bound for who knows where, in the midst of a perpetual fog. Although they don’t know it yet, they’re all dead; failed pianist Henry Bergner (Paul Henreid) and wife Ann (Eleanor Parker) realize this first, because they have committed suicide together in their small London flat. The others – tough guy reporter Tom Prior (John Garfield), Lingley, a brutal industrialist (George Coulouris), grasping socialite Genevieve Cliveden-Banks (Isobel Elsom) and her docile husband Benjamin Cliveden-Banks (Gilbert Emory), the meek Reverend William Duke (Dennis King), merchant seaman Pete Musick (George Tobias), would-be actress Maxine Russell (Faye Emerson), along with other passengers, have all been killed by a Nazi Blitz bomb in a taxi, and have yet to discover the truth of their current situation. One by one, they realize that they’re now in limbo, attended to by the servile Scrubby (Edmund Gwenn), as they wait for judgment from the Examiner, the now deceased Reverend Frank Thompson (Sydney Greenstreet), who is one of many heavenly judges who rule on each person’s final destination – heaven or hell, in a very literal sense.

Based on the 1924 novel by Sutton Vane, Outward Bound, which was filmed in 1930 under director Robert Milton, starring Leslie Howard, Helen Chandler, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Between Two Worlds is an odd wartime project to say the least, even if in the end, it has a somewhat positive narrative conclusion. Many have remarked on Blatt’s curiously flat staging of the project, and indeed, he only directed two more films after this, before returning to his regular job of dialogue director, but when I caught the last 50 minutes of the film this morning on TCM – I’ve seen it many times before – I was struck by the simplicity and sincerity of Blatt’s work on the project, which seems deeply felt, even impassioned. The movie’s main interest seems to reside in offering moral instruction for the audience, of a very direct kind, rather than escapist entertainment – something that Warner Bros. didn’t usually engage in.  It’s an odd, moody film, one that has unexpected power that gathers over the film’s running time, and exerts a hold on one’s imagination, even as it seems still and unhurried – but then again, the characters are in limbo, and so, for the duration of the film, are we.

Nobody Lives Forever

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

George Coulouris and John Garfield on the set of Nobody Lives Forever

John Garfield was one of the most talented, and the most tragic, of the major American stars of the late 1930s through the 1940s; in a string of brutal, cynical noirs, made mistly for Warner Bros., Garfield epitomized the hardcore ethic of the renegade outsider, or the common man run over by the interests of the ruling class.

In such films as Dust Be My Destiny (1939), Castle on the Hudson (1940), the deeply underrated Saturday’s Children (1940), the cinematic adaptation of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf (1941), Howard Hawks’ Air Force (1943), Destination Tokyo (1943), the allegorical drama Between Two Worlds (1944), Tay Garnett’s prototypical noir The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) for MGM, Nobody Lives Forever (1946), Humoresque (1946), Body and Soul (1947) and Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), for 20th Century Fox, Garfield was the forerunner of such actors as James Dean, Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift; an actor who made each performance “real” through the intensity of his engagement with every role he played.

This brief overview of his career takes its name from his film Nobody Lives Forever, in which Garfield plays conman Nick Blake, who tries to seduce rich widow Gladys Halvorsen (Geraldine Fitzgerald) in hopes of swindling her out of a fortune, but finds himself falling in love with her instead.

The downbeat fatalism of the film could well serve as a metaphor for Garfield’s career; tagged as a Communist sympathizer by the HUAC, Garfield refused to “name names,”and as a result was summarily blacklisted from the industry. His last film was John Berry’s ironically titled He Ran All the Way (1951); Garfield, who had a long history of heart trouble, died on May 21, 1952, at the age of 39.

Looking back, it’s astonishing that he had as much impact as he did, and made as many films as he did, racking up a total of 33 films between 1938 and 1951, most of them in the starring role. That’s just thirteen years to make your mark; but then again, nobody lives forever.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

RSS Frame By Frame Videos

  • War Movies
    UNL Film Studies professor Wheeler Winston Dixon at one of the earliestand most enduring film genres, the war movie. […]
  • Frame By Frame - Hollywood Composers
    UNL Film Studies professor Wheeler Winston Dixon highlights the most prolific Hollywood film composers. […]

In The National News

National media outlets featured and cited Wheeler Winston Dixon on a number of topics in the past month. Find out more on the website http://newsroom.unl.edu/inthenews/