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The year 1941 found the actor John Garfield in a proactive period of transition. The former Group Theatre actor (born Jacob Julius Garfinkle in 1913) and star of Clifford Odets' Golden Boy had been disappointed to lose the role he had created on Broadway to William Holden in Columbia Pictures' 1939 film adaptation. Consolation came with a long-term contract at Warner Brothers. After making his film debut in Four Daughters (1938), Garfield found himself mired in projects for which he had little enthusiasm, including The Sea Wolf (1941), in which he was billed below Edward G. Robinson and Ida Lupino. That year, he fired his agents, Lyon & Lyon (whom he felt sided with the studio over contract disputes) and took on powerhouse Lew Wasserman. Garfield also partnered with business manager Bob Roberts, laying the groundwork for his own production company to launch after his Warners contract expired. Suspended by the studio for refusing to appear in Anatole Litvak's Blues in the Night (1941) alongside his Four Daughters costar Priscilla Lane, Garfield was replaced by contract player Richard Whorf. His next picture, Dangerously They Live (1941), had been announced in the trades as starring Lane and Whorf, back when the project was known by its working title Remember Tomorrow.
What changed Garfield's mind about the job may never be known, nearly fifty years after the mercurial actor's premature death by heart attack in 1952, but the politics informing Marion Parsonnet's script likely played a factor. A member of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League well before America's entry into World War II in December 1941, Garfield would have warmed to the film's uncompromising depiction of German agents wreaking havoc in the free world. With director Robert Florey at the helm, Remember Tomorrow went before the cameras in September 1941. Instead of Priscilla Lane as his leading lady, Nancy Coleman was cast opposite Garfield, as a British operative feigning amnesia to evade enemy agents Raymond Massey, Moroni Olsen and Lee Patrick on the grounds of a New York sanitarium. (However disappointed Lane may have been to lose the role to Coleman, the actress starred the following year in Alfred Hitchcock's wartime espionage thriller "Saboteur" .) Between the end of principal photography and the film's Christmas Eve premiere, the Japanese Imperial Navy, in league with Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, bombed the American Naval Base at Pearl Harbor; four days later, Hitler declared war on the United States.
General release of the retitled Dangerously They Live was delayed for two months as the American military mobilized for combat. (Warner Brothers did not even file a copyright on the film until February 1942.) Deemed then as now a minor vehicle for rising star Garfield, the film won only scattershot praise from the critics of the day for Florey's direction and the assembled talent. In his April 11, 1942 New York Times review, Bosley Crowther allowed that Garfield "plays the single-handed hero in this instance with cool and square-jawed conviction, while Raymond Massey and Moroni Olsen are as slick a pair of Nazis as there is--in the Screen Actors Guild, of course."
For his part, Garfield never looked back. He spent the remaining months of 1941 touring military bases in the Caribbean in the company of Laurel and Hardy, Chico Marx and Ray Bolger. Despite his liberal politics (which would get him into considerable trouble throughout the decade), Garfield proved his dedication to American servicemen by helping to found with Bette Davis the Hollywood Canteen, in which soldiers bound for or returning from war could enjoy dinner and entertainment provided exclusively by volunteers from the entertainment industry.
Producer: Bryan Foy (uncredited)
Director: Robert Florey
Screenplay: Marion Parsonnet
Cinematography: L. Wm. O'Connell
Art Direction: Hugh Reticker
Film Editing: Harold McLernon
Cast: John Garfield (Dr. Michael 'Mike' Lewis), Nancy Coleman (Jane Graystone), Raymond Massey (Dr. Ingersoll), Lee Patrick (Head Nurse Johnson), Moroni Olsen (Mr. John Goodwin), Esther Dale (Dawson, Goodwin's Housekeeper), John Ridgely (John, Nazi Henchman), Christian Rub (Mr. Steiner), Frank Reicher (Jarvis, Goodwin's Butler), Ben Welden (Eddie, Nazi Henchman).
by Richard Harland Smith
He Ran All the Way: The Life of John Garfield by Robert Nott (Limelight Editions, 2004)
John Garfield: The Illustrated Career in Films and Onstage by Patrick J. McGrath (McFarland & Company, 2006)