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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

Headshot of 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 thirty books and more than 100 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. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

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Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at for more details.

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