Part film noir, part political allegory buried in a crime genre movie — Abraham Polonsky’s debut film (background as a screenwriter- Body and Soul with Garfield in 1947) has strong performances, visuals and writing
79 perfectly panicked minutes
Richard Day does the set decoration- he won a total of 7 Oscars and worked on films with great decoration that include Dodsworth, On the Waterfront and How Green Was My Valley.
It’s a major achievement for John Garfield- think you can make a strong case for it as his best work in his tragically short (died at age 39) career that included 12 archiveable films. He’s in total command here. He plays it cool at the right moments and ditto for the moments he dials it up. He’s intelligent, manipulative, caught in the middle pushing his brother and then taking it from mob boss Ben Tucker (played by Roy Roberts). He starts out smooth and ends sweaty and freaked- not a stiff performance at all- certainly feels like a precursor to Brando and James Dean
Garfield providers the voice-over (noir) and the stylized use of light and shadow (noir again)
Loaded with great dialogue like “he took a century out of my pocket”
The film is a perfect pairing with 1954’s On the Waterfront. There is a ton in common here with the characters, settings, the poetic interludes between protagonist (Brando/Garfield) and girl (Eva Marie Saint/Marie Windsor) and there’s even the allegorical political HUAC stuff back and forth from Polonsky and Kazan. This film is extremely anti-capitalist and well-done in its execution of that. It’s tough to separate but both Garfield and Polonsky were victims of this and it hurt their career
It also has a lot in common with the 1993’s De Palma film Carlito’s Way– or at least the Sean Penn lawyer reminded me of Garfield in some ways
Garfield isn’t the only strong performance- Thomas Gomez (also in Key Largo in 1948) is his equal in their powerful scenes together as his brother Leo. Both performances are big, bold and aided by the powerful hard-hitting dialogue from Polonsky and atmospheric visuals
Love the shot of the light pouring in on Garfield’s face from the ajar door
Wire taps- the phone here is a character in the film. It’s exceptionally well framed in a few scenes to exaggerate the object in the foreground.
The dialogue isn’t realism- it’s has monologues that are poetical—it’s lyrical though– an asset to the film for sure
Some beautiful natural set piece work in New York- an empty NYC street that feels like it could be from 28 Days Later or The Omega Man– nice shot of the bridge, or church in background
A film famously championed by Scorsese for it’s portrayal of the American underworld
Dark and dour—nihilistic – dog-eat-dog
I’d like to see another 5 minutes on the ending- it does feel a little truncated