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A tense, claustrophobic thriller that is often overlooked in film noir retrospectives due to its relative obscurity, He Ran All the Way (1951) is an almost perfect example of the genre with its doomed protagonist, gritty, urban setting, and overall sense of futility and paranoia. At the story's open, two petty thieves, Nick (John Garfield) and Al (Norman Lloyd), plan a payroll robbery. But the heist doesn't go as planned; Al is wounded by the police and Nick takes refuge at a public swimming pool where he befriends Peg (Shelley Winters), a shy blonde. When Peg takes Nick home to meet her family, tensions mount and Nick, growing increasingly agitated, takes the family hostage while masterminding his escape from the city.
In many ways, the sense of paranoia that pervades every frame of He Ran All the Way was real. John Garfield, director John Berry, and two of the screenwriters, Hugo Butler and Dalton Trumbo (who is uncredited), were already blacklisted by the industry at the time of He Ran All the Way due to their refusal to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee. Trumbo, in fact, had already served time in a Kentucky prison for contempt of court along with other members of the "Hollywood Ten." He Ran All the Way would prove to be Garfield's final film; he died of a heart attack a year later, the cause partly attributed to the strain of being branded a communist sympathizer and blacklisted by the industry. The other three were soon forced into exile; Berry and Butler relocated to Europe where they were able to pick up various film projects, Trumbo moved to Mexico and continued writing screenplays for Hollywood features which he submitted under pseudonyms through "fronts."
He Ran All the Way pre-dates the popular stage play (and movie), The Desperate Hours by a few years and deals with the same set of circumstances: a family trapped in their own home by a hostile outside force. Unfortunately, Berry's film never got the credit it deserved in 1951 (it was an independent production picked up for distribution by United Artists) but its reputation has grown considerably over the years, not only for its excellent performances, sharp dialogue and stylish direction but also for James Wong Howe's atmospheric cinematography and Franz Waxman's moody score.
Prior to the making of He Ran All the Way, Shelley Winters was under contract to Universal to make a low budget turn-of-the-century drama about a belly dancer named Little Egypt (1951). Anxious to start work on Berry's film, she concocted a plan to get herself fired from Little Egypt and promptly gained enough weight to make herself look particularly unappealing for her wardrobe tests. The ruse worked and Winters went on a crash diet, losing fifteen pounds in a week - just in time to report to work on He Ran All the Way.
According to Winters in her autobiography, Shelley II: The Middle of My Century, "the time frame of He Ran All the Way covered twelve hours. It starts in the early afternoon in a swimming pool (the Long Beach Plunge). James Wong Howe's camera was at the side of the pool above the water. The director had arranged for a stuntman double to do Garfield's swimming. Garfield had had a severe heart attack at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club a few months earlier. I knew that underwater swimming was especially taxing to the heart. I rehearsed with the double, but when we came to the actual shooting of the scene, Garfield refused to let the double do it. We had to do the scene about ten times to get the lighting in the water right. It was scary and unnecessary...Back then, I could not understand why John insisted on doing this dangerous shot himself. In retrospect, it seems almost as if he unconsciously wanted another heart attack. I didn't understand the political trouble he was in. I just knew that Warner Brothers, by breaking his contract and casting him adrift, were destroying one of their most valuable properties and breaking his heart." Despite her co-star's troubles, Winters remembers Garfield's kindness to her most of all. "He was generous to me in every way a big star can be to a newcomer. He gave me the best camera angles in two-shots, made sure the camera favored me and the audience saw both of my eyes. He spent hours on my close-ups, and if he didn't like the rushes and felt I could look prettier, he insisted that the director relight the scene and reshoot it."
The attention was justified because among Winters' films, He Ran All the Way features one of her best performances. Even Winters admits it "was one of the most remarkable and important films I was ever to do."
Producer: John Garfield, Bob Roberts, Paul Trivers
Director: John Berry
Screenplay: Sam Ross (novel), Dalton Trumbo, Hugo Butler, Guy Endore
Production Design: Harry Horner
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Costume Design: Joe King
Film Editing: Francis D. Lyon
Original Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: John Garfield (Nick Robey), Shelley Winters (Peg Dobbs), Wallace Ford (Mr. Dobbs), Selena Royle (Mrs. Dobbs), Gladys George (Mrs. Robey), Bobby Hyatt (Tommy Dobbs), Norman Lloyd (Al Molin).
by Jeff Stafford