John Garfield’s 1st Movie: “Four Daughters” (1938)

Adam Lemp (Claude Rains), the Dean of the Briarwood Music Foundation in upstate NY, has passed on his love of music to his 4 young adult daughters – Thea (Lola Lane), Emma (Gale Page), Kay (Rosemary Lane) and Ann (Priscilla Lane)- who live w/ him and his maiden sister, Aunt Etta (May Robson), in their loving/cozy family home. Thea plays the piano, Emma plays the harp, and Ann plays the violin. It’s Kay who shows the greatest promise- she’s the singer. The girls exasperate their father w/ their love of popular music, since he loves classics (esp. Beethoven). The sisters support each other and share clothes. Each girl is an individual w/ her own distinct personality and wants, incl. the type of man each wants as a husband. Emma (practical, but secretly romantic) has been courted by their next door neighbor/shy florist- Ernest Talbot (Dick Foran). Thea (who calls herself “the clever one”) wants to marry Ben Crowley (Frank McHugh), a middle-aged/upwardly-mobile banker. The youngest sister, Ann, thinks she doesn’t want to get married. Their lives change when 2 new men come into their lives. The first is Adam’s old friend’s son, popular music composer, Felix Deitz (Jeffrey Lynn), quickly gets a job at the foundation using his natural charm/enthusiasm. The second is a scruffy/cynical musician from NYC, Mickey Borden (25 y.o. John Garfield in his big screen debut/1st Oscar nom), who Felix hires to orchestrate a new composition.

It took me some time, BUT I realized that I’d seen a version of this story before! My parents used to re-watch the 1954 musical remake (Young at Heart); Mickey was played by Frank Sinatra and Ann was played by Doris Day. Four Daughters was to be a big-budget production starring Errol Flynn (fresh from his success on The Adventures of Robin Hood), BUT was re-worked into a modest domestic drama. It was designed as a vehicle for Priscilla Lane, which also happened to have roles for her sisters- Lola and Rosemary. Warner Bros. gave this movie to director Michael Curtiz as a small assignment to tide him over as Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) was coming together. Surprisingly, Curtiz delivered a film that was critically acclaimed and a box office success, earning 5 Academy Award noms!

Mickey [telling his life story to Ann]: They’ve been at me now nearly a quarter of a century. No let-up. First they said, “Let him do without parents. He’ll get along.” Then they decided, “He doesn’t need any education. That’s for sissies.” Then right at the beginning, they tossed a coin. “Heads he’s poor, tails he’s rich.” So they tossed a coin… with two heads. Then, for a finale, they got together on talent. “Sure,” they said, “let him have talent. Not enough to let him do anything on his own, anything good or great. Just enough to let him help other people. It’s all he deserves.” Well, you put all this together and you get Michael Bolgar.

Mickey was originally written w/ actor Van Heflin in mind; he could’ve done a good job. Garfield (who’d been studying the craft of acting since HS) based Mickey on his friend/musician- Oscar Levant; to see them together, check out Humoresque (1946). When Lynn did his screen test to play Felix, he was also shown Garfield’s screen test; he predicted that the newcomer would steal the show. Looking at this film w/ our (modern) sensibilities, it doesn’t take long to realize who is the real star. In any other case, the (tall/slim/conventionally handsome) Lynn would be the draw. Next to the (naturalistic, yet dynamic) performance of Garfield, he doesn’t stand a chance! As one astute viewer commented: “Mickey shows up loaded with bruised charisma to burn and pulling the focus of the story to him without even trying.” Check this movie out- you may really enjoy it!

[1] The role was superbly played by John Garfield, and it brought him not only stardom but also, and perhaps more important, won for him his place in cinema history as the screen’s first rebel hero.

[2] Unlike some actors who appear in several films before their screen image gels, Garfield established his immediately, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and talk of the fates being against him.

[3] How opposites attract is part of the ploy for touching the quick of the viewer’s imagination. Ann is the eternal optimist, even when she and Mickey are down and out. She always looks on the bright side and like so many caught in the pliers of the Great Depression in those days, she saw prosperity just around the corner. Mickey recites an entire list of bad things that have happened to him seeking company in his misery from Ann, which Ann refuses to do. Mickey expects to go out with a bolt of lightning striking him dead as he rounds the corner of life. Mickey has meager talent as a composer; Ann has talent to spare as a singer and musician. Ann is big on beauty; Mickey is big on personality in a warped sense of a way.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“Ophelia” (2018) starring Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, Clive Owen, & George MacKay

As a rebellious/motherless child, Ophelia, is taken into Elsinore Castle by Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts) as one of her ladies-in-waiting. Years later, a grown-up Ophelia (Daisy Ridley- who had her breakout role in the recent Star Wars sequel trilogy) captures the affections of Prince Hamlet (George MacKay). A romance kindles between the two in secret, as the kingdom is on the brink of war, amidst internal intrigue and betrayal. When Hamlet’s father (Nathaniel Parker- who has no lines) is murdered and the prince sets his mind on revenge against the new king/his uncle, Claudius (Clive Owen- wearing a terrible wig), Ophelia must choose between love and survival.

What happens when “the message” (feminism- in this case) and style (locations/sets, hair, costumes, etc.) are made more important than substance (good writing)? Well, we get movies like this (available on Netflix) from Aussie director Claire McCarthy. The cinematographer (or D.P.) is McCarthy’s husband, Denson Baker; I think he did a fine job. This movie was shot on location is the Czech Republic on a mere $12M budget- wow! I learned that it’s based on a young adult (YA) novel by Lisa Klein, NOT the tragic play Hamlet by Shakespeare. The chanting (repeated in several scenes) comes from Hamlet’s letter in Act 2, scene 2: “Doubt that the stars are fire. Doubt that the sun doth move. Doubt truth to be a liar. But never doubt I love.”

Things just don’t make sense here- which is frustrating! Young Ophelia is running around the castle dressed in raggedy clothes w/ a dirty face, though her father is the king’s main advisor. As a young adult, the other ladies-in-waiting belittle Ophelia as she wears flowers, NOT jewels (b/c Polonius can’t afford them). WTH!? As one astute reviewer noted, lines and scenes from other Shakespeare plays (Much Ado About Nothing; Romeo and Juliet) are used here. In the play, Hamlet hates the wild/drunken parties thrown by Claudius; here he wears a mask and dances w/ those at court. Of course, Ophelia (being NOT like other girls- eyeroll), is self-conscious b/c she “dances like a goat.” Whatever… There is V little development of the love story; I also didn’t see any chemistry btwn Ridley and MacKay. I’ve heard that MANY young actors want to tackle the role of Hamlet, BUT I felt kinda sorry for him here. Emasculating men or casting them ONLY as baddies is NOT going to improve stories of women. Just don’t waste your time!

[1] The all-star cast were OK in their roles, but nothing earth-shattering. The love story needed loads of developing and loads more could have been made of Clive Owen’s character being a threat to Hamlet’s family, crown and future. Naomi Watt’s duel roles was super confusing and brought nothing to either characters. (Which pains me to say as I love her as an actress). I really feel this film is style over substance.

[2] Hamlet is a non starter, some angry little boy. and the men of course are evil: deny education, don’t take care of their wife, kill other men, try to rape and so on.

[3] Preachy, not empowered. Lose the agenda and the attitude. Too bad, this could have been something interesting.

[4] I’m an ultra-lefty feminist and even I eyerolled. Why couldn’t it be a genuine dramatic tragedy? It didn’t need this type of girl power remake.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“TRON” (1982) starring Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, & Cindy Morgan

Hacker/arcade owner Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is digitally broken down into a data stream by a villainous software pirate, Master Control, and reconstituted into the internal, 3-D graphical world of computers. In this colorful/geometric landscape of cyberspace, Flynn joins forces w/ Tron, who looks just like his pal Alan (Bruce Boxleitner- perhaps best known for the sci-fi TV show Babylon 5), to outmaneuver the Master Control program that holds them captive in the equivalent of a big/dangerous computer game. Though V basic by our (modern) standards, this was an innovative/labor-intensive movie in its day! There is a BTS (behind-the-scenes) documentary re: the movie (free on YouTube: see link below).

Many Disney animators refused to work on this movie because they feared that computers would put them out of business. In fact, 22 years later Disney closed its hand-drawn animation studio in favor of CGI animation. Hand-drawn animation was resumed at Disney after creative director, John Lasseter, also head of Pixar (a computer animation company). TRON was disqualified from receiving an Academy Award nomination for special effects, because the Academy felt at the time that using computer generated effects was “cheating” – wow!

Y’all, I gotta keep it real w/ you; I ONLY watched this for Bridges! He’s adorable w/ a fringe haircut (like the one Kurt Russell had in his day), quirky physicality, and a nerdy personality. ALL the actors (when inside the computer) wore skintight outfits; IRL these were white w/ black markings (where the graphics would be added in later). Bridges had TOO much of a bulge in the crotch area in his costume (hey, this was released by Disney); he had to wear a dance belt to conceal it. To inspire the actors, arcade games were placed on the sets and played during downtime. Bridges found it hard to tear himself away from a game to shoot a scene- LOL! Boxleitner (who lived on a ranch at that time) said he was reluctant to take on this role, BUT ended up having a good time. When asked about his co-star, Boxleitner recalled: “He WAS Kevin Flynn!”

In the 1st act of this movie, we meet 3 young computer programmers- Kevin, Alan, and Lora (Cindy Morgan- I’d never seen her acting before). They’re still close friends, even though Kevin no longer works w/ them at Encom. Kevin and Lora used to be a couple, BUT now she is dating Alan. The main baddie roles are played here by British character actor David Warner; he recently passed away after a long life/prolific career. Warner was a working class kid (from Manchester, England) who came out of the theater world (studied at RADA). Trekkies remembered him fondly on social media; he acted in several notable roles: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (St. John Talbot), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Chancellor Gorkon), and Star Trek: TNG (Gul Madred). He was also on an ep on S1 of Babylon 5; I watched that recently. Warner was the cold/gun-toting Lovejoy in the hit movie, Titanic (2002), who chased Jack and Rose.

“Force of Evil” (1948) starring John Garfield, Thomas Gomez, & Marie Windsor

Harvard-educated lawyer, Joe Morse (John Garfield), wants to consolidate the small-time numbers-racket (gambling) operators into one (big/powerful) operation, on behalf of his (racketeer) boss, Ben Tucker (Roy Roberts). However, Joe’s older brother (nearly 50 y.o. w/ heart issues), Leo (Thomas Gomez), is one of the small-time operators who wants to stay that way, preferring NOT to deal w/ the gangsters who dominate the big time. These brothers share a volatile/guilt-ridden relationship; Leo raised Joe for some years after their parents died. To complicate matters, Tucker’s bored/unhappy wife, Edna (Marie Windsor- in the femme fatale role), has her eyes on Joe. Leo is concerned for those who work for him, esp. secretary, Doris Lowery (Beatrice Pearson; in her 1st/sole film role at age 28), who is the “good girl.”

Edna: You’re wide open, Joe. I can see into you without looking.

Joe: Don’t bother; besides it’s not nice to do.

Edna: More interesting than when you have a rock for a husband like mine. He’s a stone, that man. Whole world are rocks and stones to him.

Joe: Why tell me? Tell him.

Edna: Never tell him anything. Makes me feel unnecessary.

Joe: If I make you feel NECESSARY then I’m making a mistake.

Force of Evil was selected to the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress in 1994. It is included among AFIs 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies. This film is predicts the legalization of the numbers racket into state-run lotteries. It also involves wiretapping technology- innovative at that time. Critic Thom Andersen identified this as an example of film gris, a suggested sub-category of film noir incorporating a left-wing narrative. Force of Evil was a major influence on Martin Scorsese; it was the 1st movie he remembers having watched as a boy. Scorsese explained that it showed NYC the way he knew it to look in real life. As a young filmmaker, he studied it frame-by-frame; Scorsese said that you can see the influence in Mean Streets, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas.

Edna: A man could spend the rest of his life trying to remember what he shouldn’t have said.

This film is a tour de force for Garfield; it was released by MGM, but produced by Enterprise Productions (co-founded in 1946 by the actor and producers David L. Loew and Charles Einfeld). After Garfield’s contract w/ Warner Bros. ended, he wanted more creative control over his films. The (1st time) director and noted screenwriter is a childhood pal of Garfield’s- Abraham Polonsky. He collaborated w/ Ira Wolfert, the author of the source novel- Tucker’s People. In order to show cinematographer George Barnes how he wanted the film to look, Polonsky gave him a book of Edward Hopper’s Third Avenue paintings. The art director (AKA production designer) was Richard Day; he worked on Dodsworth, The Grapes of Wrath, and How Green Was My Valley. The musical score is by the David Raskin (Laura) and suits the movie well. Below are some lines from my fave scene; this dialogue is gold!

Joe: If you need a broken man to love, break your husband. I’m not a nickel, I don’t spend my life in a telephone! If that’s what you want for love, you can’t use me.

Edna: You’re not strong or weak enough.

“The force of evil here is capitalism itself, according to the author- Polonsky,” as Eddie Muller (TCM) commented. I saw this movie (free on YouTube) this week; the run time is only 79 mins. You may have to see it 2x, b/c they pack in a LOT at a fast pace. There are MANY character actors who add flavor to the story. As one astute viewer wrote: “see for a slightly more polished and sophisticated view of the noir world.” Though he comes from “the slums” and grew up poor, Joe now wears fancy 3-piece suits and has a spacious office. He admits to Doris that he decided to work for Tucker for the money.

Joe [to Doris]: I didn’t have enough strength to resist corruption, but I was strong enough to fight for a piece of it.

Have you seen actors in person? I’ve seen a few (esp. when commuting/walking in my NYC days); they’re usually a BIT shorter/slimmer than they appear onscreen. Garfield (5’7″) stood on an apple box for a scene between him and Windsor; the curvy/statuesque actress was several inches taller. Windsor said he had no ego about it though. Of course, she couldn’t wear high heels- LOL! Notice how they bend and shift so they’re usually sitting near each other, NOT standing. I wanted to see a BIT more of Windsor; she gets to wear some great outfits. Check this movie out!

…one of the most audacious and subversive movies of its era. […] In the cab, when Joe gives Doris a ride, Polonsky gives free range to an extraordinary flow of dialogue- unnatural language that seems to emerge straight from the character’s subconscious. From this scene, Force of Evil is unique, each scene coming at the viewer from slightly left-of-center, both artistically and politically. -Eddie Muller, hot of Noir Alley (TCM)

[1] Of course the fact that the film was shot totally on location in scintillating black and white noir in New York City, gave it a dimension that no other noir films have, save possibly Night and the City, which was also shot on location (in London).

[2] There are many more levels to this complex film and discussion of them all could fill many pages. Above all, it is a beautiful movie, expertly directed with tremendous black and white imagery. The dialogue combines snappy patter with almost poetic sensibility. And the performances of all concerned are top notch. This is truly a treasure of cinematic art. Be prepared to think deeply when you watch it.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“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 WWI: $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 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, 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