The following review is one of several that I composed for the ClassicFlix site under the column title “Where’s That Been?” Most of those columns made the transition to CF’s new site but some of them stayed behind for reason or another…and since my writer’s ego is just big enough to where I don’t like having what I’ve penned shielded from the large number of folks who surf the Internets I have reprinted it here. Enjoy!
A sleepless night featuring dreams of running so hard “my lungs are burnin‘ up”—culminating in his killing of a man—has made petty crook Nick Robey (John Garfield) skittish about participating in a payroll robbery masterminded by his confederate Al Molin (Norman Lloyd). Nick’s premonition of having “a hard luck day” won’t deter Al in the slightest, so the two men take a briefcase from a train yard warehouse employee at gunpoint. In their escape, however, Al is killed by a policeman, and Nick shoots at the same cop in retaliation.
Advised by Al to mingle in crowds, Nick finds himself at a municipal swimming pool, the Long Island Plunge, making the acquaintance of a young woman named Peggy Dobbs (Shelley Winters), who’s at the Plunge for swimming lessons. Nick charms Peggy into letting him take her home, and once there he’s introduced to her parents (Wallace Ford, Selena Royle) and her younger brother Tommy (Robert Hyatt). When Ma and Pa Dobbs (and Tommy) leave to take in a movie, Nick and Peggy get better acquainted by doing a little dancing. Nick is edgy and agitated, and complains of not feeling well, symptoms he experienced earlier that morning before the robbery.
The Dobbs’ return, and a paranoid Nick produces a gun, attempting to hold them all hostage. He’s convinced that Mr. Dobbs, who works as a press operator for the local newspaper, has figured out his identity from reports about the robbery. The problem is the only individual mentioned in those reports was Al, and so Nick is forced to continue making himself an unwanted guest in the Dobbs home. Tensions begin to ratchet, particularly once Nick learns the policeman he shot in his flight is now deceased.
A movie that predates the better known The Desperate Hours (1955) by a few years, He Ran All the Way (1951) would serve as John Garfield’s valedictory film. Throughout his motion picture career, Garfield had carved out a successful niche of portraying working-class heroes blessed with a streetwise intelligence, and even when Julie was on the “wrong side of the law,” as in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) or Nobody Lives Forever (1946), he possessed an innate decency that encouraged audiences to root for him. One of his most despicable screen turns is in Out of the Fog (1941), in which he plays a hood shaking down Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen for protection money. Yet he’s charming enough to stir romantic feelings in Mitchell’s daughter, played by Ida Lupino.
Garfield’s Nick Robey in He Ran All the Way is one of film noir’s most memorable protagonists. His very existence is saturated with paranoia; he has no one left to trust, appearing to have been thrust into this world with no family or support system (his mother, played by Gladys George, treats him with utter hostility and refuses to respond when he reaches out to her in trouble). Peg Dobbs appears to be the only person who’s recently treated Nick with kindness, and yet Robey’s so psychologically warped he’s unable to respond in kind—sure, he’ll shower her with affection, but then drive her away with the jealousy that’s fueled by his desperate situation. The “no way out” world Robey resides in benefits from James Wong Howe’s stunning black-and-white cinematography and Franz Waxman’s appropriately doom-laden score.
Although He Ran All the Way is not an overtly political film, the politics of the time is prevalent in every frame. Hollywood Ten member Dalton Trumbo and Hugo Butler adapted Sam Ross’ novel for the screen, with Trumbo having to use a front in screenwriter Guy Endore. Director John Berry was also under scrutiny for his political affiliations, and for a time after the film’s release both Berry and Butler’s names were removed from the credits (Endore would also find himself blacklisted as well).
But it was star Garfield who suffered the biggest toll of the blacklist backlash. The man who had perhaps raised more money for the war effort during WWII (as a matter of fact, Julie co-founded the Hollywood Canteen) had been summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee and pressured to “name names.” Garfield lived by a personal code that would not have been out-of-place in the many screen characters he played: he didn’t rat out his friends. (HUAC already knew which of the actor’s pals were Communist Party members anyway, yet still insisted on John’s public flagellation.) The strain and pressure proved too much for Garfield, who died of a coronary thrombosis less than a year after He Ran All the Way’s release at the age of 39.
Dialogue director Arnold Laven (the later director of such films as Without Warning!) would remember in a 2009 interview that the relationship between Garfield and co-star Shelley Winters was a particularly stormy one (and only got more heated when director John Berry was thrown into the mix), but the future two-time Oscar winner (The Diary of Anne Frank, A Patch of Blue) herself related things a bit differently in her autobiography Shelley II: The Middle of My Century: “He was generous to me in every way a big star can be to a newcomer.” Amusingly, Winters got herself sacked from an assignment at Universal (1951’s Little Egypt) in order to work with both Johns by putting on a bit of inappropriate weight and then going on a crash diet once her job on He Ran All the Way was secure. It’s one of Shelley’s best screen performances, and the actress later admitted it “was one of the most remarkable and important films I was ever to do.”
Since He Ran All the Way was John Garfield’s final film, it’s wonderful that he received another opportunity to work with character great Wallace Ford one final time—the two men had appeared together previously in 1950’s The Breaking Point. On the other hand, one has to wonder why Julie never had occasion to do a movie with fellow Warner Bros. employee Gladys George before He Ran…but it doesn’t matter, she’s quite impressive as his sassy, alcoholic mother (George: “If you were a man, you’d be out looking for a job.” Garfield: “If you were a man, I’d kick your teeth in.”). All of the performances in the film are stellar—and now available on a newly restored DVD and Blu-ray from Kino Films—but those people who’ve wondered if centenarian Norman Lloyd ever did anything but fall off the Statue of Liberty (Saboteur) will love his brief appearance as Julie’s greasy partner-in-crime.