2 January 2007 | evanston_dad
John Garfield Runs All the Way
This strange entry in the noir canon features John Garfield delivering a sweaty, paranoid performance as a small-time crook who shoots a cop during a heist gone bad and then holes up with the family of a girl he meets and desperately latches himself on to (Shelley Winters). He virtually takes the family hostage, threatening to kill whichever member he has with him at the time if any of the other members try to seek help. Meanwhile, a game of patriarchal dominance begins between Garfield and the father, whose sense of masculinity is threatened by his inability to help his family. It all leads to a showdown in the street as Garfield attempts to run away with Winters, who may or may not have genuine feelings for him.
"He Ran All the Way" is more about the dynamics of family than anything else. In the first scene, we see what kind of home life Garfield's character comes from. His blowsy mom (played divinely by Gladys George, who has far too little screen time) verbally and physically abuses him, and then refuses to come to his aid later on when he's in trouble. As a result, Garfield tries to make a sort of surrogate family of the one he's taken hostage, attempting to establish a twisted kind of domestic tranquility, with himself as father figure. The most unsettling scene transpires at a family dinner, when Garfield forces the family at gunpoint to eat the meal he's prepared for them.
Throughout the film, Garfield acts with a desperate intensity you can practically smell. Unlike all of those cooler than cool crooks who populate the worlds of other noir films, Garfield is lousy as a criminal; his own paranoia and panic give him away at moments when he otherwise wouldn't be in any danger. Shelley Winters plays his love interest as a dowdy mope, the second time that year (see "A Place in the Sun") she played a frump who meets a good-looking lad and then regrets it. Wallace Ford and Selena Royle do the honors as mom and dad.
"He Ran All the Way" is not one of the more ambitious entries in the noir cycle, but like so many of the lurid, low-budget films that came out around this fertile period in cinema history, it has fascinating undertones that belie its simple plot.
With crisp photography by James Wong Howe and a propulsive, sensational score by that old pro Franz Waxman.