Why We Need John Garfield in a Cary Grant Movie

John Garfield is a hit with the dames. Image: Ultimate Movie Rankings
John Garfield brags about dames he’s known. Image: Ultimate Movie Rankings

Here’s a movie from World War II: Destination Tokyo (1943). It stars Cary Grant as an American submarine captain tasked with sneaking his vessel in and out of the enemy waters of Tokyo Bay – without getting blown up.

Destination Tokyo is the supposed story of American weather “intelligence” gathering in preparation for the Doolittle Raid. According to historyonfilm.com, the film is entirely fictional; however, the website says, “the attention to detail is impressive, since the script is based on a story by a former submariner.”

Not that we (as in, yours truly) are any kind of submarine expert, but we do feel the film has lots of realistic adventure: the battle scenes with enemy ships; the dislodging of an unexploded bomb; the sneaking around Tokyo Bay. All of this transpires under the watchful eye of Captain Cary Grant.

In many ways, Grant is a good choice to play a submarine captain because he’s calm and decisive. Yet in other ways, he’s an odd choice; even in rolled-up sleeves and a sweat-drench shirt, he still has the studio-lighting glow of a Movie Star.

So if we (the audience) are to buy a story about an American submarine crew on a Dangerous Mission, the film needs de-glamorization.

Somebody! Get John Garfield on the phone.

Garfield with director Delmer Daws (L) and Cary Grant on the set. Image: IMDB
Garfield with director Delmer Daws (L) and Cary Grant on the set. Image: IMDB

John Garfield, in our opinion, serves as the anti-Cary Grant in this film. If Grant’s character uses the word “lady”, Garfield says “dame”. While Grant talks about What’s Best For Everyone, Garfield crows about his success with women.

Garfield’s character would be insufferable in real life, but here he exudes Personality. In a claustrophobic movie like this, you need someone with enough charisma to offset the ever-present threat of enemy attack.

All of Garfield’s stories are about “dames” and he’s got a million of ’em. “Once I knew a dame who had a temperament just like a bomb,” he says off-handedly, and the effect is just as he intended – to bring levity to an otherwise tense situation.

Garfield’s character may be full of bravado and exaggeration, but he also has confidence in his crew mates and their Prime Directive. When he leaves the submarine on a life-or-death assignment, he waves cheerfully – “So long, guys!” – as though he’s off to a baseball game.

Our favourite scene is after the burial-at-sea of a beloved crew member. As the men sort the man’s personal effects, Garfield finds a do-it-yourself record which he plays for the boys. It turns out to be a recording made by the dead man’s wife, and she has a hopeful, moving message about their future after the war.

As the record plays, the crew members leave the room one by one, unable to stomach the thought of this woman receiving news of her husband’s death. Garfield, however, stays seated motionless beside the record player, absorbing everything the woman says, gently lifting the needle from the vinyl only after she says goodbye and the recording falls silent.

Dane Clark (left) thinks Garfield's conquests are baloney. Image: Hollywood Pictures
Dane Clark (left) thinks Garfield’s conquests are baloney. Image: Hollywood Pictures

Although Destination Tokyo has aged fairly well, it is still a product of its time. Aside from some shocking anti-Japanese propaganda, the crew are portrayed as ultra-heroic and saintly as possible.

Which is why we need John Garfield. He takes some of the polish off this Hollywood-ized story and makes it seem more plausible.

Garfield made a career playing hard-shelled men with a soft centre. But he was not without versatility or complexity. He’d already been nominated for a Best Supporting Acting Oscar in 1939 (Four Daughters), and would be nominated for Best Actor in 1948 (Body and Soul).

In looking at Garfield’s career, the New York Times quotes actor Danny Glover who appeared in a 2003 documentary on Garfield (The John Garfield Story). ”What was wonderful about John Garfield’s acting,” says Glover, “is that you felt that in some way his story was your story.”

So it is with Destination Tokyo. While Cary Grant has top billing, it’s Garfield’s movie to steal – and he does.

Destination Tokyo: starring Cary Grant, John Garfield, Alan Hale. Directed by Delmer Daves. Written by Delmer Daves & Albert Maltz. Warner Bros., 1943, B&W, 135 mins.

This is part of the John Garfield: The Original Rebel Blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies.




  1. I love this post!!! You’ve captured Garfield perfectly and I love how you compared him to Grant! I love submarine movies so it was interesting to hear the story behind it!

    We have an outbuilding without ac and for a while my brother had his tv out there (it was spring or fall so the temp was fine). We watched this movie out there and It was kind of stuffy so when we finally came outside after watching the movie it felt like we were coming out of a submarine!!

    Thanks so much for participating in this blogathon!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! I can imagine that leaving the outbuilding and stepping into fresh air was very much like climbing out of a submarine. I bet that experience made the movie more intense?

      Thanks for hosting this blogathon. John Garfield deserves more fan love nowadays, and your blogathon is a marvelous tribute to him. 🙂


  2. I ‘ve only seen “Destination Tokyo” once, and that was 4 or 5 years ago. I really don’t remember very much about it. But one thing that stuck in my mind, though, was the appropriate name of the Wolf character.
    I like the way you contrast Cary Grant’s character with Garfield’s here. They’re both favourites of mine, yet I can’t think of two actors with more opposite screen personalities. Garfield isn’t the main character in the film–but he does make the most colourful impression, and if Cary’s Captain Cassidy embodies what every American male of the time was supposed to be, Garfield’s Wolf is much closer to what the man of the time actually was.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well said: “if Cary’s Captain Cassidy embodies what every American male of the time was supposed to be, Garfield’s Wolf is much closer to what the man of the time actually was.” That’s exactly right. I couldn’t have stated it better myself.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post as always! I’ve always admired John Garfield, and my favorite film of his is “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” I also love Cary Grant, and now I look forward to exploring this film. It will be interesting to watch the differing acting styles of Cary Grant and John Garfield. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope you get a chance to see this. Cary Grant and John Garfield are SO different, but it works onscreen. I think there’s only one scene with the two of them together, and Garfield hands it to Grant on a plate.


  4. Ruth, wonderful tribute to a wonderful, overlooked actor. I’m fond of Garfield though I haven’t seen much of his filmography. I know that offscreen, he was quite honorable in his very short life.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Enjoyable look at this film. It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen it but I do recall the different dynamic between Grant, who is fine and gives it his best shot but as you said is still Cary Grant, and the street savvy Garfield, rough around the edges but very relatable.

    It was also interesting to see Garfield with Dane Clark, who Warners was grooming to be a stand in Garfield in a pinch. I always liked Dane Clark, he was brash and appealing but he was never going to be John Garfield. The corresponding gravitas was missing as well as the megawatt star quality, but Warners gave it their best shot with him, in a way too hard. I’ve seen films of Clark’s, Whiplash comes to mind, where the imprint of Garfield is so heavy that it’s obvious the script was meant for him but he was either unavailable or turned them down.

    Anyway thanks for reminding me about this one I need to revisit it soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. John Garfield as the anti-Cary Grant? I like that! They certainly were different film stars and suited to specific kinds of roles. DESTINATION TOKYO was co-written and directed by one of my favorite filmmakers: Delmer Daves. He went to make some fabulous films like THE HANGING TREE and 3:10 TO YUMA, plus some entertaining 1960s big screen soaps.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’d heard of the film but didn’t know two of my favorite actors were in it. Count me in! I love Cary Grant, but Garfield is such a better cast in this kind of role. His magnetism and realism really fit this kind of story. Great shot of his listening to the voice of the wife. Did any other actor ever listen with as much intensity as Garfield?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes, if you like Cary Grant and John Garfield you MUST see this one. This film needs Garfield, and he does not disappoint.

      You raise a good point re: John Garfield’s listening intensity. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I think you’re right.


  8. Well, it’s hard to imagine a submarine captain glowing like Cary Grant under studio lights! I’m glad Garfield is in the film to create balance. You made me curious to watch this movie!
    Thanks for the kind comment!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Takes some of the polish off…I love that. Sounds like he is indeed the perfect balance Grant, and this film, needed. (And, ouch, the record player scene sounds brutal yet sort of beautiful after reading about this character’s behavior.)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wonderful perspective on a movie that was among my Dad’s favorites. He loved his war flicks and couldn’t say enough good things about John Garfield. Grant was sophisticated. Garfield was every man.

    Liked by 1 person

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