Monday, March 04, 2013

Movie Monday: The John Garfield Edition

It's John Garfield's birthday today, or would have been had he not died of a heart attack at the age of 39 in 1952. The actor, known for roles in movies such as "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946), "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947), and "Destination Tokyo" (1943), had a history of heart trouble that started when he had scarlet fever when he was a child. Being blacklisted in Hollywood after refusing to name names when called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) did not help his condition and may have had a hand in his early death.

Garfield started acting in school as part of therapy for a speech impediment. He made his Broadway debut in 1932. That play, "Lost Boy", only ran for a couple of weeks, but soon found himself in other roles. Eventually, Hollywood began to try to entice him to Hollywood, but Garfield resisted until he was turned down for the starring role in "Golden Boy", a role he had really wanted. A couple of studios offered screen tests, but talks over a contract got hung up when he wanted a clause inserted that would give him time off for future stage work. Finally, Warner Brothers agreed, signed him, and put him in "Four Daughters" (1938), in the role as a troubled young composer who disrupts the lives of the family who runs the boarding house where he rents a room. Garfield was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor in a Supporting Role in the film. Although he lost to Walter Brennan in "Kentucky", I think you can see in this clip from the film exactly why he was nominated:

Garfield was also nominated, this time as Best Actor, for his work in the 1947 film "Body and Soul", in which he plays a boxer who gets mixed up with some crooked promoters:

Again, Garfield lost the award, this time to Ronald Colman in "A Double Life". Also nominated that year were Michael Redgrave (for "Mourning Becomes Electra"), William Powell (for "Life With Father"), and Gregory Peck (for "Gentleman's Agreement"), so he was in good company. Garfield, by the way, was also in "Gentleman's Agreement". A controversial film about antisemitism, "Gentleman's Agreement" ended up winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Elia Kazan), and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Celeste Holm).

As I mentioned earlier, Garfield also starred in "The Postman Always Rings Twice", which just might have the most enticing first five minutes of a film in the history of Hollywood. See for yourself:

I dare you not to go out and find that and watch the whole film. The only reason that I'm not going to spend the next couple of hours doing just that is that I've got some other things to do first.

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