March Highlights on TCM
JOHN GARFIELD (March 4, 6am)--March 4 is the birthday of John Garfield, born Jacob Julius Garfinkle on the Lower East Side of New York. He once said that if he hadn't become an actor, he "might have become Public Enemy Number One"--the statement fits neatly with his screen persona, but it happens to be true. Unlike Cagney, who grew up under the same conditions but seemed to have a stable and loving family life, or Bogart, whose father was a surgeon and whose mother was an illustrator, Garfield had it tough. His mother died when he was young and he was shuttled from one rough neighborhood to another before his father remarried and settled in the Bronx, where Garfield led a street gang. Like many "difficult" kids who found their way, he had help from an interested teacher--in this case a progressive educator named Angelo Patri, the first Italian-American public school principal in the country. Garfield overcame a stammer in city debating competitions, took acting classes and later joined the American Laboratory Theatre (run by Richard Boleslawski and Maria Ouspenskaya, who had come from Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theatre), joined the Group Theatre and had a hit with Clifford Odets' Awake and Sing!, and left for Hollywood. He was given the name John Garfield at Warner Bros. His friends always called him Julie.
TCM is screening nine of Garfield's 31 features, most of them made at Warners. Several of his best pictures, including Force of Evil and Pride of the Marines, are not included, but the tribute gives you an accurate picture of Garfield's image as a movie star and so do the names of many of the movies being shown: Dust Be My Destiny, They Made Me a Criminal, Dangerously They Live, Out of the Fog and East of the River--just reading those titles gives you a sense of the Garfield persona. Most of them are beautifully made but fairly conventional melodramatic vehicles (Out of the Fog, based on Irwin Shaw's play The Gentle People, is a little more unusual), but they were very special to audiences, especially audiences from the type of neighborhood where Garfield grew up. We loved those pictures and we loved Garfield because we could see, clearly, that he was one of us. The Sea Wolf, directed by Michael Curtiz from Jack London's novel, is a dark, moody film, and so is The Breaking Point, also by Curtiz, and a more faithful adaptation of Hemingway's To Have and Have Not than the Hawks film. It turned out to be Garfield's penultimate picture, made shortly before he was called before HUAC and subsequently blacklisted. His friends and family claim that the pressure and anguish of that period caused the heart attack that killed him at 39.
John Garfield was the bridge between Cagney, Robinson and Bogart before him, and Clift, Brando and Dean after him. He was a great actor, a vivid movie star, and the face and spirit of the City for American moviegoers of an earlier era.
by Martin Scorsese