“Daughters Courageous” (1939) starring John Garfield & Claude Rains

As they have done for many summers, San Fran-based fashion designer, Nan Masters (Fay Bainter), her 4 single/young adult daughters, Cora (Gale Page), Tinka (Rosemary Lane), Linda (Lola Lane), and Buff (Priscilla Lane), and their long-time/sassy/elderly housekeeper, Penny (May Robson), are spending time in Carmel, renting the house of a local businessman, Sam Sloane (Donald Crisp). ALL the daughters are at various stages of courtship w/ a local man. The highlight of this summer is Buff’s aspiring playwright bf, Johnny Heming (Jeffrey Lynn), mounting a community play, w/ a small role for Cora (an aspiring actress). Suddenly, Nan makes the announcement that she plans imminently to marry Sam- ONLY w/ her daughters’ blessing, which they provide! Sam is the opposite of the girls’ father, the charming/outgoing Jim Masters (Claude Rains), who abandoned the family 20 yrs ago. On this same day that the Masters welcome Sam into their family, telling him to sit at the head of the table for dinner, Jim returns! He is wanting to resume his place in the family after traveling the world. Buff becomes interested in Gabriel, a young con, the son of Manuel Lopez (George Humbert), an immigrant/fisherman.

Penny: [as Tinka, who along with her sisters is giving Sam a shave, dips a towel into the kitchen sink filled with hot water] Hey, hey, hey! That hot water’s for my dishes.

Tinka: This towel is for Sam’s face.

Penny: These dishes have been in the family much longer than Sam’s face!

After Garfield made a FAB debut in Four Daughters the previous year, there was a LOT of demand for a sequel; sadly, his character (Mickey) had died at the end. Jack Warner (studio head) remedied that w/ acquiring a play by Dorothy Bennett that ran 247 performances during the 1935 season on Broadway- Fly Away Home. It’s the story of a family on the eve of the matriarch’s (2nd) marriage to a businessman. Out of the blue, her 1st husband shows up, and wants to be part of the family. This film is often (mistakenly) considered a sequel to Four Daughters (1938), as it has the same primary cast (in somewhat similar roles), most specifically Page and the Lanes portraying 4 sisters to Raines’ father) and the same director, Michael Curtiz. However, the actors play different characters in this film than in the earlier film. Four Wives (1939) and Four Mothers (1941) are 2 sequels to Four Daughters.

Nan: [after the Judge and Nan have dealt with the problem that is Gabriel Lopez] I’m very sorry, Henry. Could you come to dinner tomorrow night?

Judge Hornsby: I’m afraid not. I’m contemplating having a stroke.

Does the fact that Gabriel is Hispanic have an impact here? I’d have to say NOT too much, aside from adding to his “outsider” status. His father acts humble, is V hard-working, so seems to have gained respect in the community. Gabriel acts sassy to Judge Hornsby, though he’s NOT wrong- LOL! Afterwards, Manual exclaims to his son: “I try to make you a gentleman and this is how you repay me?” He is echoing the frustration of immigrants who want better for their (American-born) children than they had themselves. Since Garfield was playing a Mexican general in Juarez (1939) when Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein were writing the screenplay to this movie, they made his character Hispanic (as a joke). Manuel (when V upset) speaks in Italian; Humbert is an immigrant from Sicily. The vendor (down the road from the courthouse) chastises Gabriel (also in Italian) when he grabs 2 bags of peanuts from the cart w/o paying.

Penny: [sternly] When are you going to stop sliding down the banister?

Buff: [excitedly] When they stop making ’em.

This is a much more interesting story than Four Daughters; there are serious themes underneath. Though the cast is quite large, each character gets a chance to add to the story. Priscilla Lane and Garfield continue to have good romantic chemistry; it’s a case of opposites attracting (yet again). He convinces her to hang out w/ him; she ends up paying for beer and food. Some viewers felt that Gabriel was TOO cynical; they preferred Mickey (Four Daughters) instead. Though he tries to make an easy buck, Gabriel is NOT really a bad guy; he’s restless to see the world (beyond his small town experience). The scenes between Garfield and Rains are standouts; Gabriel and Jim have great (potential friend) chemistry. When they first meet, the young man strolls into the house, playing the accordion, and looking for a girl (NOT recalling Buff’s name- oops)! If you’re a fan of these actors or just want something relaxing to watch (like a Hallmark movie), then check this out.

[1] Garfield, just as he did in the earlier film, jumps off the screen with a charisma and sexuality the other performers just can’t match. He and Claude Rains, whose character from the first film undergoes the greatest change, strike up a good rapport as two wandering spirits.

[2] As the Bainter character herself comments, the dialogue does tend to be flip, – it is often amusing, but it is hard to take it seriously. The superlative photography, especially the location scenes (between the trees overlooking the water) which have a real lyrical quality, and the music score are major assets, as is the skilled film editing. The direction is not especially striking, but has confidence and assured craftsmanship.

[3] This is a an enjoyable, though somewhat dated film, enlivened by the masterful presence of Claude Rains. He completely steals the film, even when surrounded by a solid supporting cast… But the production code of the era demanded that any character who was “morally tainted” would be made to pay for it, eventually, in the movie. Warner Bros. made no exception here, even though the ending is plausible and frankly, ludicrous.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

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 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

“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 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

“Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947) starring Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, & John Garfield

Philip Schuyler Green (Gregory Peck) is a writer/novelist from California recently hired by a national magazine (Smith’s Weekly) in NYC for a series of articles. Phil is a widower w/ a young son- Tommy (Dean Stockwell- best known for Quantum Leap and Battlestar Galactica) – and a mother (Anne Revere) who is facing health challenges. He’s NOT too keen on the topic his editor John Minify (Albert Dekker) chooses- antisemitism. He wishes he could talk w/ his best pal, Dave Goldman (John Garfield), but Dave (who is Jewish) is serving overseas w/ the Army Corps on Engineers. For a week, Phil isn’t sure how to tackle it, then it comes to him- he’ll pretend to be Jewish! Of course, it takes little time for him to start experiencing bigotry. Phil’s anger at the way he’s treated starts affecting all aspects of his life, including his growing romance w/ his editor’s niece, Kathy Lacey (Dorothy McGuire).

Tommy: What’s antisemitism?

Phil: Well, uh, that’s when some people don’t like other people just because they’re Jews.

Tommy: Why not? Are Jews bad?

Phil: Well, some are and some aren’t, just like with everyone else.

Tommy: What are Jews, anyway?

Phil: Well, uh, it’s like this. Remember last week when you asked me about that big church, and I told you there are all different kinds of churches? Well, the people who go to that particular church are called Catholics, and there are people who go to different churches and they’re called Protestants, and there are people who go to different churches and they’re called Jews, only they call their churches temples or synagogues.

Tommy: Why don’t some people like them?

Phil: Well, I can’t really explain it, Tommy.

I re-watched this Oscar-winning movie (directed by Elia Kazan) last week; I saw it a few times over the years. Though there are things to admire, there are scenes which will look quite dated (and insensitive) to modern viewers. After he decides on his angle, Phil looks into the mirror and assesses his own features (“dark hair, dark eyes”) as being consistent w/ the Jews. This reveals that he has been influenced by the stereotype of there being a “Jewish look.” You may find Phil’s talks w/ his (Jewish) secretary, Elaine Wales (June Havoc), to be cringe-worthy (as the young people say). Of course, June herself says some self-hating/prejudiced stuff re: her people.

Phil: I’m going to let everybody know I’m Jewish.

Kathy: Jewish? But you’re not! Are you? Not that it would make any difference to me. But you said, “Let everybody know,” as if you hadn’t before and would now. So I just wondered. Not that it would make any difference to me. Phil, you’re annoyed.

Phil: No, I’m just thinking.

Kathy: Well, don’t look serious about it. Surely you must know where I stand.

Phil: Oh, I do.

Kathy: You just caught me off-guard.

I thought it was refreshing that the main love interest was smart (teacher), posh, and divorced; this is rare for a woman in a ’40s movie! (BTW, both Peck and McGuire were only in their early 30s.) However, Kathy is a part of her time and (high) society, so she doesn’t always know what to say (much less do) when her man is faced w/ prejudice. Admit it, we all know some “nice” WASP lady like this! There’s a lot of emphasis (too much for many viewers) on the romance between Phil and Kathy; it also happens very fast. I thought that the actors had good chemistry, though I preferred Anne Dettrey (Celeste Holm) over Kathy. Anne also works at the mag, enjoys single life, and has a bubbly personality; we can tell she greatly respects and likes Phil.

I enjoyed all the family stuff; Phil has a great relationship w/ his mom (who was only 12 yrs older- wow) and son, who both get some good character development. Stockwell is not just adorable (w/ his dark curls), but also a natural kid actor (rare in that time)! The first act will seem slow to many viewers; Phil suffers from writer’s block (which doesn’t equal great drama). It takes some time for Garfield (who was Jewish) to show up; he took a supporting role b/c he felt this was an important story to tell (but was paid his star’s salary). I loved how he played Dave; it was a subtle performance which holds up well even today! This was also the year when a (smaller) movie also tackled antisemitism- Crossfire.

[1] Green is adamantly and unwaveringly sure of himself and woe betide any who do not share his abhorrence at any manifestation of discrimination, starting with Kathy.

The romance between Green and Kathy is as back-and-forth as any Hollywood potboiler, the difference being that their arguments and falling-outs revolve entirely over Kathy’s inability to grasp the absolute righteousness of her fiance’s crusade. The dispute is artificial and wearying to some degree and I rooted for Celeste Holm’s lovely, witty and totally tolerant Anne, a fashion editor with attitude, as the top gal in the film.

[2] Peck’s crusading writer who masquerades as a Jew is simply too zealous and unswerving for his own good. He has no faults, no inner conflicts and no doubts about himself. […]

She symbolizes the hypocrisy and passiveness of the everyday American on anti-Semitism, and he points it out to her every chance he gets-and that’s all.

[3] As John Garfield’s character in the movie showed: discrimination and racial intolerance can be eliminated if we fight it. Garfield’s willingness to take a supporting role in this movie because of the power of its message should compel the skeptics to watch this movie.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews