John Garfield: Film in a Dangerous Time

Shelley Winters has a thing for bad boy John Garfield. Image: Pop Matters
Shelley Winters has a thing for bad boy John Garfield. Image: Pop Matters

We’ve been musing about pathetic fallacy.

Now, we don’t want you to miss all the fun, so here’s a quick definition:

Pathetic Fallacy attributes human qualities and emotions to inanimate objects of nature. The word “pathetic” … is not used in the derogatory sense of being miserable; rather, here, it stands for “imparting emotions to something else”.

You’ve seen this many times in movies: a couple walks on a sunny beach; a family stands at a gravesite in the rain.

Pathetic fallacy can be prominent. In The Figure in Film, N. Roy Clifton writes, “[In] Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs… trees claw at Snow White in the forest, their trunks glower, their fallen logs gape with crocodile jaws” (p. 327).

Sometimes pathetic fallacy is more subtle, but no less effective, as in the film noir He Ran All the Way (1951).

John Garfield stars as a troubled man who plans a risky daytime payroll robbery with his pal (Norman Lloyd). However, during the heist, Lloyd is wounded and a police officer is shot, which means Garfield is in Big Trouble.

Garfield dashes into a public swimming pool to dodge police, where he meets an insecure young woman (Shelley Winters). Garfield flirts with her and escorts her home, where he charms her parents and younger brother.

Then he takes the family hostage.

Over the next few days, Garfield allows family members to leave the apartment so neighbours and coworkers don’t become suspicious. But it’s the family – not the police – who pose the greatest danger to him.

As you can imagine, this creates tension but, just to torque things a bit, the filmmakers have added a blast of pathetic fallacy of sorts: summer heat.

Wallace Ford (left) refuses to eat Garfield's turkey dinner; Image: RavePad
Wallace Ford (left) refuses Garfield’s turkey dinner. Image: RavePad

There’s no escaping the heat, starting with the opening scene where Garfield wakes up from a bad dream in a sweat. The heat is pervasive. It’s not a steamy, exotic heat; it presses on you.

It’s meant to be weighty, because everyone in this film is a prisoner. Winters is trapped by her feelings for Garfield, while Garfield is caught between a police manhunt and the family he holds captive.

The heat also leans on Garfield’s conscience and his unspoken fear of what he might do if someone betrays him.

Ironically, Garfield likes – even respects – Winters’ family. He himself has no father, and his mother (Gladys George) is an abusive alcoholic. When George slaps him, early in the film, Garfield looks momentarily crushed. He rubs his jaw and says, with a scornful laugh, “You’re losing your punch, Mom.”

This scene gives us sympathy for Garfield’s character, but only until we realize he might actually harm an innocent family.

As precarious as the plot is, it was much more precarious behind the scenes.

Menacing Gladys George. Image: Pinterest
Menacing Gladys George. Image: Pinterest

He Ran All the Way was John Garfield’s final film. He died in 1952, at age 39, from a heart attack that (they say) may have been partly caused by his being blacklisted.

In 1938, the American House of Representatives formed the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to sniff out communists and communist sympathizers. After World War II, HUAC put the stink eye on Hollywood and issued subpoenas to testify and “name names”.

Garfield was among those who refused to give information. This led to his being blacklisted, which meant he could no longer work for any of the major Hollywood studios.

He wasn’t the only one on this film who was marked. According to the Film Noir Foundation, the following cast and crew were affected by the blacklist either before filming started or shortly afterwards:

  • Co-star Shelley Winters (quit Hollywood before being forced to testify)
  • Co-star Norman Lloyd (blacklisted)
  • Co-star Selena Royle (refused to testify)
  • Director John Berry (blacklisted)
  • Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (blacklisted)
  • Screenwriter Hugo Butler (avoided subpoena)
  • Screenwriter Guy Endore (blacklisted)
  • Cinematographer James Wong Howe (considered suspicious)

No wonder these filmmakers employed heat as pathetic fallacy.

If you’re able to find a good print of He Ran All the Way, we recommend you drop everything to watch it. It’s a tense, well-structured film, and we think you’ll enjoy it.

He Ran All the Way: John Garfield, Shelley Winters, Wallace Ford. Directed by John Berry. Written by Dalton Trumbo & Hugo Butler (as Guy Endore). United Artists, 1951, B&W, 77 mins.

This post is part of The Film Noir Blogathon hosted by The Midnite Drive-In. Click HERE to see the fab entries.




  1. Can’t believe I have never seen this, since it stars two of my favorites, Garfield and Winters. He died so young! And what an assembly of talent on this picture…seems like anyone who was intellectual and artistic was branded a Communist in those days…

    I always enjoy visiting your wonderful blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve always loved this film and that ending!! Such a definitive shot of Garfield considering whee the film winds up in the history of his career. This one was one of my “musts” at the TCM fest this past April. Was such a cool experience to see it at the Egyptian with a full house.
    Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good lord, I’m sweating even now from the thought of all that heat. (And its only 4:30 AM here in what is sure to be another Texas scorcher, but enough about the weather.) This movie I haven’t seen, but it immediately reminded me of “Key Largo” mainly because of the hostage situation and the heat (weather again) Nicew review

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Garfield was terrific in roles like this one. And you’re right about the brilliant use of rising temperatures (interestingly, John Greco recently reviewed BODY HEAT, another movie in which sweat drips from the screen). And thanks for the tip about cranking up the AC the next time I watch it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I like the way you started off by explaining what ‘Pathetic fallacy’ was (a term I am ashamed to say, I was unaware of, besides being a Literature buff). I like how you then symbolically discuss the use of heat, in the movie, as Pathetic fallacy!! The fact heat isn’t steamy & exotic, in this film; is something I can relate to, in real life. Heat where I live is humid, sweaty and entrapping, as well. Makes you lethargic, cranky, you name it!!
    It’s really sad about the blacklist!! Not just for the stars of this film, but in general, back then. It was a tough time to be in Hollywood, in that era; yet they produced some of the greatest movies ever, back then.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t imagine living in the type of heat you describe. It can sometimes get pretty cold where I live, and I much prefer that to the stifling heat of some parts of the world.

      Yes, it is really sad about the blacklist. Talented people were affected, and some never really recovered.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You taught me about pathetic fallacy as well, and I loved how you used it in your post! This sounds like such a good movie. I could go outside and watch it and really get a feel for it – it’s 111 degrees as I write! It sounds like the movie would have you on the edge of your seat. I appreciated the information you shared about so many of the cast being blacklisted. That is incredible that this happened in our country. What a sad time. Thanks for a very interesting read, Ruth! Putting this one on my list.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ll certainly drp everything to watch a good copy of this film. I really enjoyed John Garfield in Force of Evil, and Shelly Winters is also a favorite. And, well, I always get a sour taste in my mouth reading about blacklisting in Hollywood.
    Thanks for the kind comment!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. That is wild – how many of the cast/crew were blacklisted. Interesting… You always have such fab posts. Yes, also the review. This looks fantastic. I’d have to see it because, even though he’s, you know, bad and has taken a family hostage, and even though you imply it’s a short scene with his mother, I’d probably still feel sympathy for him. I’m wicked sensitive like that. I also love the “why” behind characters’ motivations. Fascinating to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Garfield is mesmerizing in this film, as is everyone in the cast. He has a touching scene with the kid who plays Shelley Winters’ younger brother, one you will not forget.

      As for the blacklist, it’s crazy to see how many people on this film were affected. I hope you get the chance to see this one.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. A truly enlightening post, Ruth. I’m not at all familiar with this movie but always have enjoyed Garfield and Winters. This seems like the perfect vehicle for them both. Those were some dark days when the HUAC conducted its witch hut. It’s maddening to consider just how many lives were tormented and how much talent was wasted while a few abused their power. I’ve pinned the movie. It will be an entertaining evening, especially considering the insights you’ve shared. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. John Garfield was undoubtedly one of the finest actors of his time. His early death remains a huge tragedy. So many of the blacklisted actors/writers/directors who lived long enough were eventually able to bounce back (Shelley Winters with her 2 Oscars and Norman Lloyd who, of course, is still working at nearly 102) even higher than before. Too bad he wasn’t one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it is too bad John Garfield didn’t live long enough to get through the blacklist era. Like you said, he had amazing talent. I can’t think of a mediocre performance that he might have given. He had a way of making you feel what he was feeling, no?


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