Before there was James Dean, Marlon Brando or Montgomery Clift, there was John Garfield. Widely acknowledged as America’s first actor to embrace grittier roles depicting working class rebels with inner torment, Garfield is TCM’s celebrated star for Friday, August 5.
At 6am/5c, TCM starts things off with 1938’s Four Daughter, which was Garfield’s feature film debut. Garfield himself started things off right, receiving his first Oscar nomination in the role of a jaded pianist who falls for one of four musical sisters. The film was so successful, it spawned a sequel, Four Wives (1939). Unfortunately, TCM isn’t including that film in their day-long tribue.
Instead, at 7:45/6:45c it’s another of Garfield’s films from 1939, Blackwell’s Island in which Garfield plays a newspaper reporter trying to expose the wrong-doings of a NYC prison housed near the waterfront of the East River’s Roosevelt Island. Trouble comes when mob boss Bull Bransom (Stanley Fields) gets the young reporter fired and later exposed that he himself had paid off a prison warden in order to obtain information for his story.
Another film from 1939. Garflied’s They Made Me A Criminal is notable for being the first film in his early career in which he took on full responsibilities as leading man. Directed by famed Hollywood director, Busby Berkeley, and co-starring Claude Rains, the film is a remake of The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933). Garfield plays a champion boxer with a somewhat unsavory past who is falsely accused of murder. While on the lam and presumed dead, he meets up with a group of ne’er-do-well kids, played by a group of young actors known as The Dead End Kids and rejoins the world of boxing by taking on an assumed name. When his true identity is discovered, local authorities go easy on him when they see how he’s turned his life around.
From 1942, Garfield stars in Dangerously They Live at 10:45a/9:45c. Co-starring Raymond Massey and Nancy Coleman, the movie’s promotional backstory is slightly more interesting that the plot itself. A literally too-close-for-comfort storyline caused the film’s distribution company to hold the movie for two months. In the film, Garfield’s character meets a mysterious woman (Coleman) who claims to be a British secret agent on the run from German spies. She’s privy to classified intel about a potential threat of secret Nazi U-boats waiting off the American coastline. Not wanting to cause unnecessary worry to those on the home front who’s loved ones were being mobilized for combat at the time, the film’s release was delayed a few months.
The next two films in Friday’s TCM tribute to Garfield move him to the front lines. First, at 12:15p/11:15c, it’s Pride of The Marines from 1945. The fictionalize account of real-life soldier Al Schmid, who was blinded in combat offered movie goers an insider’s look at the results of war. Timing of the film’s release couldn’t have been planned better, as it hit theatre the very week the real war came to an end.
By contrast, 1943’s Air Force, directed by Howard Hawks was released right smack in the middle of wartime. Garfield stars alongside John Ridgely, Gig Young, Charls Drake, Harry Carey and others, as the crew of a bomber who arrive in Pearl Harbor following the aftermath of the Japanese attack.
One of my personal favorite Garfield films is next at 4:45p/3:45c when he’s teamed with Joan Crawford in 1946’s Humoresque. Featuring a brilliant soundtrack by Isaac Stern, including Wagner’s Prelude and Love Death, it’s the story of star-crossed lovers, a classical musician from the wrong side of the tracks (Garfield) and his attraction to a wealthy, albeit neurotic married socialite (Crawford). Keep an eye out for Robert Blake (former Our Gang child actor who went on to star in TV’s Baretta). He plays Garfield’s character as a young boy.
TCM gives fans an inside look and the personal and professional life of John Garfield with an encore presentation of their original biodoc The John Garfield Story at 7pm/6c. Narrated by Garfield’s daughter Julie, this 2003 special follows the actor from his early Lower East Side upbringing through his twice-Oscar nominated career and his untimely death at the young age of 39 in 1952. Most interesting is the inclusion of details that his sudden death from a weak heart may have been the result of having been blacklisted in Hollywood.
Even if you don’t think you know who John Garfield is, you’ve likely seen TCM’s next feature, 1946’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. Based on James M. Cain’s romantic thriller, John Garfield created his ultimate working class rebel with his portrayal of drifter Frank Chambers. Lana Turner is breathtaking as Cora Smith, the manipulative married woman who convinces Frank to off her husband. Hume Cronyn (longtime spouse to Jessica Tandy) is among the film’s notable supporting actors.
At 10pm/9c, Garfield’s next to last movie, The Breaking Point (1950) is next. Based on Ernest Hemmingway’s To Have and Have Not, Garfield is once again cast in a down-troden role. This time as a man who begins to run illegal immigrations into California. Further trouble ensues when he is blackmailed into helping a gang of criminals escape following a racetrack heist. Patricia Neal co-stars.
1949’s We Were Strangers is next at 12a/11c. The film marked the first time John Huston worked as an producer independent from a major studio. The film co-stars Jennifer Jones and delves into US foreign policy in a thinly veiled plot concerning revolutionaries attempting to overthrow the Cuban regime.
Garfield’s final film, He Ran All The Way is presented as the next-to-last film in TCM’s 24-hour marathon at 2am/1c. Cast for the final time as a down-on-his luck petty thief, Garfield and co-stars Norman Lloyd and Shelly Winters star in the now-obscure film that is the prefect example of the then-popular Film Noir genre.
For the final Garfield offering, TCM will air yet another wartime drama, 1943’s Destination Tokyo. In the film, Garfield got second billing to star Cary Grant. The plot centers around Grant as Captain Cassidy, who is acting on top secret orders to take his submarine from San Francisco to Tokyo in order to obtain classified info that will aide in the upcoming Doolittle Raid of 1942.
With that, TCM’s tribute to John Garfield comes to a close. Be sure and check my column tomorrow, as TCM honors my all-time favorite comedienne, Lucille Ball on what would have been the actress dubbed as Technicolor Tessie’s 100th Birthday.
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