John Garfield is Turner Classic Movies’ “Summer Under the Stars” star on Friday, Aug. 5, ’11. TCM will be presenting twelve John Garfield movies, in addition to the 2003 documentary The John Garfield Story. There will be no TCM premieres – but don’t blame TCM for that. Garfield was a Warner Bros. star and Warners’ movies belong to the Time Warner library; in other words, his films are always available. In fact, I believe the only John Garfield movie that has never been shown on TCM is 20th Century Fox’s 1950 drama Under My Skin. (See John Garfield Movie Schedule further below.)
Much like Warners’ James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, and Errol Flynn, Garfield was a tough guy at a tough studio. Come to think of it, even Warners’ women were tough: Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino, Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon, Glenda Farrell, and, off screen, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Leslie (both of whom fought Jack Warner for better roles). My problem with Garfield is that his screen toughness, much like Bogart’s, came across as an act; worse yet, it was the very same, mannered act, over and over again.
The one Garfield performance I like is his fishing boat captain in The Breaking Point (1950), Michael Curtiz’s superior remake of Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not (1945), with Garfield in the old Bogart role. Better yet, The Breaking Point has Patricia Neal, one of Hollywood’s best dramatic actresses. Neal wasn’t yet the experienced, mature actress of Hud or The Subject Was Roses, but the seeds are there.
Priscilla Lane is the actual star of Curtiz’s Four Daughters (1938), a surprisingly enjoyable family movie – “family” as in, it’s about a family. Garfield is the outsider who steals Lane’s heart while destroying the Lemp family’s mundanely “happy” existence. For his efforts, Garfield received a Best Supporting Actor nomination, even though he’s the film’s de facto leading man.
Four Daughters turned Garfield into a star, but it also sealed his screen persona. From then on, he’d be mostly stuck playing variations of the same embittered outsider. The most interesting of those is his blinded marine in Delmer Daves’ Pride of the Marines (1945), a daring exposé of the plight of American war veterans. Eleanor Parker is outstanding as the beautiful young woman in the marine’s life.
Also of interest is Jean Negulesco’s Humoresque (1946), but not because of Garfield. In what amounts to a secondary role, Joan Crawford is the emotional core of this dark melodrama about an older, rich woman in love with a younger – and very difficult – poor man, one who happens to be a classical music genius.
Many consider Tay Garnett’s The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) to be the best movie version of James M. Cain’s novel. Personally, I find Bob Rafelson’s 1981 adaptation starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange much more effective. In fact, I even prefer Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione (1942). But Lana Turner does look good in tight shorts, and Cecil Kellaway is excellent as her doomed husband.
Made at Columbia, John Huston’s We Were Strangers (1949) is a dramatic mess; yet, it’s a must-see curiosity: it’s a Hollywood movie in which the film’s antiheroes are a group of rebels out to destroy Cuba’s (US-friendly) dictatorship. Garfield, whose liberal/left-leaning politics would get him in trouble with the right-wing opportunists of the House Un-American Activities Committee, plays one of the rebels. His cohorts include Jennifer Jones (as a character named China Valdés), Pedro Armendáriz, and silent film veterans Gilbert Roland and Ramon Novarro.
We Were Strangers was Novarro’s first big-studio Hollywood movie since MGM’s The Night Is Young fourteen years earlier. Ironically, the star of the silent era’s biggest worldwide blockbuster, Ben-Hur, had to fill out a questionnaire stating his qualifications before Columbia would sign him. But at least Huston cast Novarro without requiring a test. Huston was right: looking much older than his 49 years, the former MGM heartthrob steals the few scenes in which he appears.
Schedule (ET) and synopses from the TCM website:
6:00 AM FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938) A small-town family’s peaceful life is shattered when one daughter falls for a rebellious musician. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Cast: Priscilla Lane, Claude Rains, Jeffrey Lynn, John Garfield. Black and white. 90 min.
7:45 AM BLACKWELL’S ISLAND (1939) A reporter gets himself sent to prison to expose a mobster. Dir.: William McGann. Cast: John Garfield, Rosemary Lane, Dick Purcell. Black and white. 71 min.
9:00 AM THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL (1939) A young boxer flees to farming country when he thinks he’s killed an opponent in the ring. Dir.: Busby Berkeley. Cast: John Garfield, Claude Rains, Gloria Dickson. Black and white. 92 min.
12:15 PM PRIDE OF THE MARINES (1945) A blinded Marine tries to adjust to civilian life. Dir.: Delmer Daves. Cast: John Garfield, Eleanor Parker, Dane Clark. Black and white. 120 min.
2:30 PM AIR FORCE (1943) A bomber crew sees World War II action over the Pacific. Dir.: Howard Hawks. Cast: John Ridgely, Gig Young, Arthur Kennedy. Black and white. 125 min.
4:45 PM HUMORESQUE (1946) A classical musician from the slums is sidetracked by his love for a wealthy neurotic. Dir.: Jean Negulesco. Cast: Joan Crawford, John Garfield, Oscar Levant. Black and white. 125 min.
7:00 PM THE JOHN GARFIELD STORY (2003) A TCM original documentary that traces John Garfield’s life and career from his humble childhood. Dir.: David Heeley. Cast: Julie Garfield, Hume Cronyn, Richard Dreyfuss. Color. 58 min.
8:00 PM THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946) Illicit lovers plot to kill the woman’s older husband. Dir.: Tay Garnett. Cast: Lana Turner, John Garfield, Cecil Kellaway. Black and white. 113 min.
10:00 PM THE BREAKING POINT (1950) A desperate fishing boat captain rents his ship to some gunmen on the lam. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Cast: John Garfield, Patricia Neal, Phyllis Thaxter. Black and white. 97 min.
12:00 AM WE WERE STRANGERS (1949) A Cuban American returns to his homeland during the Revolution and becomes involved in an assassination attempt. Dir.: John Huston. Cast: Jennifer Jones, John Garfield, Pedro Armendariz, Gilbert Roland, Ramon Novarro. Black and white. 106 min.
3:30 AM DESTINATION TOKYO (1943) A U.S. sub braves enemy waters during World War II. Dir.: Delmer Daves. Cast: Cary Grant, John Garfield, Alan Hale. Black and white. 135 min.
Turner Classic Movies website.