Thursday, February 28, 2013

JOHN GARFIELD BLOGATHON

As part of the John Garfield Blogathon hosted by my friend Patti's blog They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To , I'm contributing a piece on Between Two Worlds (1944), starring John Garfield. March 4 is John's 100 birthday and, as he is one of Patti's favourite actors, an excellent moment for her to host a blogathon devoted entirely to this charismatic actor.

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS (1944)

Starring: John Garfield, Paul Henreid, Sidney Greenstreet and Eleanor Parker
Directed by Edward A. Blatt

The following contains some spoilers.





An unusual film with unusual themes for its time, Between Two Worlds is set in WWII and deals with a set of characters who, after dying in an air raid, find themselves on a mysterious ship that will lead them to the afterlife. The film is a remake of the 1930 film Outward Bound (the screen debut of Leslie Howard), which in turn was based on a play. Between Two Worlds shows its stage roots by very sparse settings and being virtually free of action, placing the emphasis on dialogue.

From the moment the characters die, it is made clear to the audience that, while some characters are aware of it and others are not, these souls are no longer earthbound and have passed on. A bold choice. Much dramatic revelation could have been spun from the 'reveal' that these people are, in fact, dead. But maybe that's too modern a thought, the result of seeing too many current movies with a plot twist, a la The Sixth Sense. No, the dramatic focus is laid on how these people deal with the lives they have lived and the choices they made that brought them to the point where they are now. Thanks to the engaging writing and excellent cast, this provides plenty to enjoy - despite the stereotypes chosen in this ensemble piece.

Reverend Thompson or, as he is also known, The Examiner (Sydney Greenstreet), takes these passengers on one by one and their fate is decided. The words 'heaven' or 'hell' are never uttered - but it's clear the final destination is either one or the other. In this sense, the film is quite predictable in who goes where (the 'bad' unfaithful wife, the greedy rich guy, etc.), and maybe the plot could have benefitted from less unambiguous characters. The moralistic tone of the story may not sit too well with modern audiences and it's best to keep in mind the times in which this film was made.




A special mention must be made about the film's splendid score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. His most famous scores are The Adventures of Robin Hood, Juarez, The Sea Hawk and Of Human Bondage. The otherwordly, ethereal music does much to enhance the mystery and supernatural theme of Between Two Worlds.

I won't reveal more details about the fates of all the characters - apart from Garfield's - because it's quite enjoyable to see them yourself, and it would be a shame to give it all away here. That said, I did not like the resolution of two characters in particular who got a get-out-of-jail-free card. That's about all I'll say about that!

Tom Prior, the character played by John Garfield, is a hardened, cynical, seen-it-all newsman, fond of gambling and card-playing. The character was 'toughened up' in the script to suit the audience's expectations of what a John Garfield character should look and sound like. Garfield does what he does best: being the tough guy with a soft center. Prior is one of the first of the passengers to find out the truth about their fate: "Gin. Rummy. The end of the game. Pick a card, Prior." His sad smile belie his cynical words.
Asked not to reveal what he has just learned, ofcourse Prior goes right ahead and does it anyway - after a theatrical magic show during which he burns one passenger's money and shoots another point blank with a loaded gun: "Yer dead, ya boobs!". It's a great moment.

Prior's fate at the end is perhaps the only one that isn't too predictable, and it does include a nice little twist as well, though it's a little far-fetched.
Out of all the cast, Garfield's character is the most engaging one, and, at least for me, the one easiest to identify with. His is the role with the juiciest lines and most grandstanding centre-stage scenes, and Garfield plays them all with relish. It's an accomplishment to stand out in an ensemble cast of quite prestigious proportions, the way he does here. It might go too far to say he holds the whole thing together but in the hands of a lesser actor (and apparently, this is demonstrated by Leslie Nielsen in the same part in the previous version) Tom Prior would be little more than a cypher. As it stands now, Garfield gives the part his particular brand of toughguy/charismatic loser and his antihero is the most memorable in an already memorable cast.



13 comments:

  1. Johan, thanks so much for taking part in the blogathon. This is an excellent review of one of the very few Garfield films I have not yet seen. (I have also not seen the earlier film, but then, I don't really care for Leslie Howard, so that may be why.)

    It sounds like an interesting movie, and your review has quite captured my interest (if it wasn't already captured by the sheer fact that it is a John Garfield film). I am thrilled that it is part of the lineup TCM has scheduled for Mr. Garfield's March 4th birthday. My DVR is set!

    Great stills, too. I especially love the one with Mr. Garfield and Eleanor Parker. She is one of my top 5 gals, so she is another of the draws for this film.

    So good to see you blogging again. Hope life has settled down a bit and that you will be back to blogging regularly once more.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the piece, Patti! And I know you'll enjoy seeing the movie for the first time. I had a similar pleasure last week: I had never seen 'Burnt Offerings' with Bette Davis and suddenly I came across it in a DVD bargain bin. It turned to be a very enjoyable film!
      I will try to post more regularly again, if not quite as often as I used to.
      Looking forward to reading the other entries in the John Garfield Blogathon!

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  2. I've never seen this. This would be a great surprise-ending film (like The Sixth Sense or even Passengers). Interesting idea for a film. Nice write-up.

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  3. This is one I have in my DVD queue but haven't seen yet. I did try to watch the original with Leslie Howard awhile back, but it was so stilted and creaky I gave up after only a few minutes. I've heard that the Garfield version is much less stagy and artificial, and your excellent post certainly makes it sound that way. It's hard to picture Garfield, though, taking on a role originated by genteel Leslie Howard!

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  4. I saw this movie ages ago (when I was starting my John Garfield crush)and it made quite an impression on me. Excellent post! I sure wish I could see it again.

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  5. This sounds like a fascinating, oddball movie, thanks to an intriguing and non-spoilery review! Wow, Eleanor Parker looks absolutely stunning in this. Yet another Garfield film to be added to the must-see list.

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  6. I have never seen this film, I'm going to have to add it to my "must see" list.

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  7. A really good posting! I've just watched this film (it's currently available to watch on Youtube, though the picture quality isn't very good) and enjoyed most of it a lot - it does feel stagey, but Garfield in particular gives a great performance and I also love George Coulouris as Mr Lingley. Just saw him in another Garfield film, 'Nobody Lives Forever', and he is great in a villainous role in that too. Must say I feel this film falls apart rather in the last half hour, once it gets to the various characters being judged (as you say, the judgments are all too predictable), and I also didn't like the rather sugary plot twist involving Garfield, which I thought was signalled from a mile off - but the earlier scenes are great and it must have been a fine stage play. I'd now like to compare the Leslie Howard version. Judy

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  8. It has been a long time since I have seen this fascinating, film noir. I don't remember the details. So, it would almost be a "new to me film".


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  9. I've seen this film a while back and really enjoyed it. I have it set to record this week and look forward to seeing it again. I've never seen the Leslie Howard version so I'll have to keep my eyes open for it!

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  10. Great post Johan, the pictures are great and I'll definately have to check this movie out if I get the chance. Great to see you blogging again.

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  11. Wow, it's a most unusual plot, for sure! I'm discovering in thsi blogathon that Garfield made many movies that I must watch as soon as possible!
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Greetings!

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  12. I saw this one only once MANY years ago when i first got into JG and Eleanor Parker and i was disappointed then but i def need to revisit and re-evaluate it. the idea is certainly unusual and the cast is great so i think i should give it another look!

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Thank you for your thoughts and comments - it is much appreciated!