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"The John Garfield Story" is a good look at an actor who died very
young and under the cloud of the blacklist. The sections concerning the
actor's personal life were most interesting to me, since I knew very
little about it. Garfield's story is narrated by his daughter, the
actress/teacher Julie Garfield. There was another daughter who died
from a massive allergy attack as a child.
The documentary covers Garfield's early days as Jacob Garfinkle, whom his family called Julie and who later billed himself as Jules, and how at a school for problem kids his dramatic and boxing skills were honed with the help of the head of the school. It goes into his early theater work, and how he took a contract at Warners after losing out to Luther Adler as "Golden Boy," a play specifically written for him by Clifford Odets. He was evidently considered too green for the role by the Group Theater and actually didn't play the lead until 1952, when his Hollywood career was over.
Garfield's star rose quickly - he was a handsome tough guy who gave honest performances and was rewarded with some major films, including "The Postman Always Rings Twice," "Gentlemen's Agreement," and "Humoresque." And his star fell just as fast when the Communist witch hunt began. A liberal in his views, and one who consorted with writers, actors, and directors deemed questionable, his major sin was going to Yugoslavia during the war. He was unable to enlist because of a bad heart, and instead helped to entertain the troops. (Lee Grant ended up on the blacklist, by the way, because she attended the funeral of someone who was blacklisted.) When he was subpoenaed for the hearings and refused to name names, the last nail went into his coffin. His last film was a B picture, "He Ran All the Way."
I can't agree totally with one of the posters, who claims that Garfield would have been washed up anyway. Yes, it's true, the '50s were filled with costume dramas and musicals; they were also filled with angry young men for whom he was the prototype - James Dean, Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger, and Paul Newman, to name a few - and surely Garfield could have successfully continued to work in and produce movies. The stage would have gotten him through the harder-to-cast middle-aged years until "The Godfather," and there's no doubt his later career as a character actor would have been very rich. But there's no use speculating.
If you don't know much about Garfield - and I didn't - you will find this a fascinating look at his career and life. But watch a little more closely, and you'll realize also that he was undoubtedly a lot more complicated than this documentary shows.
Narrated by his daughter Julie, this film offers the standard take on John
Garfield: great actor, social activist, victim of HUAC. Clips from many of
his performances are shown, including some we don't see every day on TCM.
Pretty much an adoring portrait, although there are a few references to
Garfield's darker side.
Was he a great actor? He was always quite good, but he had his limitations. He was generally better in film noir than the great outdoors and often stronger in supporting roles than in leads. The film makes an argument that Warner's frequently misused him, but he was hardly unique in this regard. In any case, he did some of his best work there (e.g.,"Pride of the Marines") before free lancing in the late 40s.
Was he an activist? Yes, though not any more so than a number of people and probably less than some. His roots may have been in the Group Theater, but even there the real emphasis was on acting, not activism. The film doesn't spend too much time on this side of his life, which is just as well, though the leftist actors who are interviewed clearly warm to this theme and to the concept of his martyrdom.
For all the talk about HUAC and blacklisting (Joe Bernard states flatly "the Committee killed him"), Garfield's acting career was at most only half dead when he died at 39. He'd just been on Broadway in "Golden Boy" and surely could have made a good living on the stage, which was always his first love.
As for his film career, that was probably on the skids anyway by 1952. Noir and social realism were played out. Hollywood was entering a white bread era and Garfield's urban/ethnic grittiness didn't fit into a landscape dominated by Westerns, Biblical epics, Technicolor musicals, and romantic comedies. Had he lived he surely would have made a big comeback in the 60s and 70s. It's not hard to imagine him as Sol Nazerman or Hyman Roth, but it wasn't in the cards.
In his last film, titled ironically "He Ran All the Way", he was allowed very little running. Rheumatic fever in the early 30s had damaged his heart and there may have been congenital problems as well (his son died of a heart attack at 41). Very likely he had been dying for years.
Recommended primarily for Garfield's fans or for those completely unacquainted with his work. Others will find it little more than routine.
I just want to say that I was so happy to see TCM do a special on John Garfield. My only complaint is that it only lasted an hour! John Garfield was the very first anti-hero. He paved the way for all who came after him...from James Dean and Marlon Brando to todays actors. Todays fans do not know who he is, and that is a shame. They are missing out on true quality acting. TCM did a great job summarizing his life and films. And I was pleased to see Julie Garfield, his daughter, commenting throughout the special. Bravo TCM!!
This is the feature-length documentary on the DVD of The Postman Always Rings Twice, with a running time of 58 minutes. It consists of interviews, many clips from his(and those of others) films(note that those contain spoilers for several of them), some "real" footage, stills and such, and the whole thing is narrated by his daughter. I did not actually know anything about the man before watching this(so I can neither confirm nor deny anything in it, but I'd imagine it's the truth), and now I want to get more movies that he's in. Did you know that he and the rest of The Group *invented* method acting? That he became one of the victims of the shrill communist scare? Or how about that the reason he was so good at being vulnerable is because they used to call him Julie? ...ok, granted, that last one is my theory on it. In addition to giving us his life story, this goes into his personality, his choices of roles, etc. Hearing the likes of Danny Glover and Harvey Keitel talk about his influence is really amazing. Everyone has something to say, and this keeps to a nice pace. It is well-edited, and the form(that of a virtual script to open and close it) is well-chosen and unobtrusive. The ending is very sweet without being corny or sappy. There is a bit of disturbing content in this. I recommend this to fans of the subject and his pictures. 8/10
My impression of John Garfield had always been that of a 1940s actor
who played tough guy roles, and who grew up in a rough urban
neighborhood. I tended to think of him mostly in the role of a boxer,
rather short and stocky (his stated height is exactly the same as that
of Tom Cruise). But since Garfield was before my time, my image of him
This one-hour bio put the man's life in sharper focus for me. I didn't know he played a variety of character types or that he studied method acting and spent much of his career affiliated with NYC's theater company. These factual details helped clarify my perception, though they also reinforced my image of him as a tough guy.
The bio includes interviews with current film VIPs, and is narrated by his daughter. Not unexpectedly these people gush with flowery compliments and adulation for Garfield. Has there ever been a film bio that featured interviewers critical of the deceased? In "The John Garfield Story" the interview responses thus seem overly eulogistic. However much the anticommunist HUAC may have wrongly hounded Garfield, the Committee didn't "kill" Garfield as one interviewer says flat out.
Even so, though the film may be a standard celebrity bio, it is still an interesting story, because Garfield himself was an interesting man and a fine actor.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a biography of John Garfield that was made by Turner
Entertainment. It talks about the life and career of John Garfield. It
also, towards the end, talks about his problems during the Red Scare,
as his left-wing politics were an excuse to hound him about communism.
The film consisted of many interviews--most notably his youngest
daughter--who really didn't know her father that well, as she was
awfully young when he died at age 39. What a loss.
The film was well-made and entertaining. Interesting and filled with many interesting facts and anecdotes. My only complaint, and it's a small one, is that the film was so short. But, so was his life...so perhaps this is fitting.
By the way, if you wonder about Garfield's wife, she was alive in 2003 when the film came out but was suffering from Alzheimers--so she really was not available to participate in the film. She died a year later.
JOHN GARFIELD was well used at Warner Bros. where he became a contract
player in the late '30s, beginning with his much ballyhooed first film,
FOUR DAUGHTERS ('38), sharing the screen with some of Warner's best
contract players and stealing many a scene as the tough guy with a
heart of gold.
But to listen to this documentary, his Warner contract allowed him to do too many prison films. Actually, his street smart, chip-on-the-shoulder type of personality was what the public expected to see rather than having him stretch to be someone who could do a variety of other roles.
After all, those tough guy prison films were what kept him so popular with the movie-going public during all those years at Warners. When he did "stretch," the accents proved too much for him to handle (as in TORTILLA FLAT and JUAREZ) and costume films were not his forte. The Brooklyn in his voice was always just beneath the surface, as was his tough guy attitude. It was the dangerous element in his personality that women loved. Aside from the prison dramas, he got to do a number of respectable war films (DESTINATION TOKYO, PRIDE OF THE MARINES) and films of social significance like GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT.
Garfield's biggest disappointment was not getting a chance to do Clifford Odet's GOLDEN BOY on public and repeating that performance on film. However, he made up for it ten years later by starring in a B'way version, just a little too ripe for the role at that point. We get to see a glimpse of a TV scene from the play opposite Kim Stanley which at least gives an indication of how good his performance in that role probably was.
As for the celebrities who talk about Garfield, that's the weakest part of the documentary. There's nothing particularly illuminating in any of the comments by Lee Grant, Joanne Woodward, Richard Dreyfuss, Norman Lloyd or any of the others who offer little insight into what made the man tick aside from his surface toughness as a result of a tough childhood in Brooklyn. Along the way he had help from someone at a school for troubled kids and developed an interest in the theater, soon a favorite with the Group Theater.
Garfield deserves a better bio than this, but it does offer some generous film clips from a few of his best films and should please fans who want to know more about his emergence as a star.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a very well-made documentary focusing on the life and career of
popular 40's actor John Garfield. Garfield was way ahead of his time- a
very natural actor who paved the way for Method actors like Newman and
Brando in acting style and presence.
Lots of great footage here and discussion of Garfield's films- this is a very detailed documentary that really gives the viewer insight into the man himself. It's tragic that Garfield died of a heartache when he was only 40- this was a terrible blow to the American cinema. Before his death, he was being earmarked for the role of Stanley Kolwalski in 'A Streetcar Named Desire'. We'll never know now how he would have went compared to Brando, but it's fair to say he would have turned in a darn good performance in his own right.
His daughter Julie narrates this doco that tells of the primary reason why Garfield died so young- he was basically hounded into an early grave by the HUAC commission through blacklisting and continual pressure.
He left our world far, far too young.
A newspaper reviewer of Garfield's performance in his first movie, "Four
Daughters," wrote that it was unclear whether it was the script or the
performance that was so great, but the that the critic opted for the
That's the way it was with Garfield: so natural and convincing was his rendering that the viewer completely forgot that it was a "performance," rather a real character being observed and experienced.
So successful were Garfield's "bad-boy" roles, that Warner Bros. kept him stuck there, to John's chagrin. On rare occasions he proved he could play other parts brilliantly, and the total body of his work is remarkable--particularly in so short at time.
To have died before the age of 40 was a serious loss to the profession, yet his legacy paved the way for the likes of Brando, DiNero, Pacino and Hoffman.
This original Turner Classic Movie production does justice to Garfield's work, and includes such thespian notables as Dreyfus, Woodward, Glover, and Cronyn paying tribute to one of their "heros."
This is an adoring, mythological biography of John Garfield that offers
little insight into the real man, his psychological complexities or his
turbulent personal and political relationships that led to his downfall
and his death. For example, one of its standard boilerplate story lines
is that Warner's misused Garfield. This same tired story-line is used
over and over in biographies of Bogart, Cagney, Davis, Robinson, Muni,
Flynn, and dozen of other actors who worked for Warners. There is
nothing original or insightful into these old half-truths.
The fact is that actors are not necessarily the best judge of the materials they should be in. The fact is that the Warners did necessarily misuse its actors. Proof that Warners was not out of touch is that it managed to make a wealth of memorable classic films in the 1930's and 1940's, starring these so-called misused actors. If one accepts the story line, then one must presume that the studio made these films by accident.
Often the point of using this trite story line in a biography is to make the actor a proletarian victim of the more powerful capitalistic forces in the studio and therefore, someone who does not have control over his destiny, or his fate, or who is not responsible for the decisions that he or she makes. That would seem to be the case in this simplified love poem to Julie Garfield.
In this documentary, one does not get the real story of why Garfield lost his prize role in Golden Boy to Luther Alder, but instead a sugar coated one. The real story is much more interesting and pivotal in the career of Garfield, and had it been told would have made an much more interesting and meaningful biography. It would, however, have exposed much of what was covered-up in this documentary, and have undermined the final verdict of it, namely, John Garfield was a victim.
The outright deceits of this documentary are too numerous to comment upon here, especially those of James Cromwell, who appears as a snotty self-appointed expert on a subject that is obviously miles over his head, nor does it bring up the fact that John Garfield perjured himself when he testified before the House Committee, and that is why he found himself in the deep muddy. His egregious perjuries had little to do with his alleged refusal to name names. Of course, these factoids would undermine the mythologizing that this documentary sets out to achieve.
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