“Nobody Lives Forever” (1946) starring John Garfield & Geraldine Fitzgerald

G.I. Nick Blake (John Garfield), a successful con man in pre-military life, has just received an honorable discharge from the Army. Rather than return to his old life, he plans to settle down in NYC (his hometown) w/ his blonde/glamorous/singer gf, Toni Blackburn (Faye Emerson; also daughter-in-law of FDR), and the money he amassed before WWII: $50,000. When that plan doesn’t pan out, Nick decides to head to LA w/ fellow con man/pal, Al Doyle (George Tobias- the comic relief), and live it up at the beach for a while. He is informed by Pop Gruber (Walter Brennan), his aging former mentor (now running small street cons in L.A.) of a potential big mark. A former associate, Doc Ganson (George Coulouris- one of Orson Welles’ Mercury Players in Citizen Kane), has found a Midwestern widow worth $2M vacationing in town, Gladys Halvorsen (Geraldine Fitzgerald; also Laurence Olivier’s wife in Wuthering Heights). Doc doesn’t have either the bankroll or the charms to carry out this con himself. Nick agrees both to bankroll and carry out the con, negotiating 2/3 of the take for himself, leaving Doc and his 2 associates w/ a minimum of $30,000. Doc doesn’t like the conditions, but he accepts the offer, being desperate for a score. The con becomes complicated as Nick must also deal w/ Gladys’ business manager, Charles Manning (Richard Gaines), gets recognized by people from his past, and grows to genuinely like Gladys (who is young, kind, and pretty).

Unlike in The Postman Always Rings Twice (which was also released in 1946), the romance here is more demure. […] The bad guys have more mirth than menace. -Eddie Muller, host of Noir Alley (TCM)

Garfield (as filmmaker Sydney Pollack commented) was a Method actor and a bridge between the classic Hollywood studio actors and those actors who changed acting forever- Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and James Dean. This is one of Garfield’s lesser-known films (a blend of noir and romance). Nick is a charmer who lies effortlessly; it’s easy for him to ingratiate himself into Gladys’ lonely life. They swim at the beach, eat fine meals, and share some convos. I esp. liked their day trip to the mission (a historical church w/ beautiful grounds); Nick is filled w/ regret and reveals some truth about his past. Despite thinking he won’t change, he does end up in love w/ Gladys and can’t bring himself to steal her money. The actors have nice chemistry, though it’s more sweet than steamy.

The screenplay is by W.R. Burnett, who also wrote a number of film crime classics, incl. Scarface, Little Caesar, High Sierra, and The Asphalt Jungle. Burnett’s dialogue is sharp and tough, and he displays insight (and even sympathy) for the criminal mind. Director Jean Negulesco knows how to create a mood. Cinematographer Arthur Edeson (Casablanca; Frankenstein) make this mood memorable and visually appealing. Though it lags at times, if you like the noir genre, it’s worth watching!

[1] Many films from the mid-40s deal w/ men struggling to readjust to their civilian lives after their wartime service. This film offers a twist: the hero’s pre-war career was as a successful con artist. He doesn’t have any trouble getting his job back, but does he still want it? WWII is a source of anxiety and moral confusion in many postwar noirs, but this film (set during the war) suggests that a stint with Uncle Sam can straighten out a crooked guy.

[2] The stars are lovely together, and the film has a rich atmosphere throughout, each setting clearly defining the moment. The nightclub scenes evoke the ’40s postwar feeling, the California scenes are bright and sunny, and the scenes on the pier are spooky and dense with fog. A very good film.

[3] The movie contains many elements of noir, as well as the fine cast. Despite these positive elements, Negulesco’s slow, deliberate pacing is more consistent with a romantic or psychological approach than with a crime drama.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

4 thoughts on ““Nobody Lives Forever” (1946) starring John Garfield & Geraldine Fitzgerald

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