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.
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.
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:
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.