The boss of Enterprise Studios was Garfield himself, and he it was who seconded Rossen to the directorial helm of this production. It turned out to be one of the best films of his career and one of the best three or four boxing films ever made. Shot in 55 days. Domestic gross: A very profitable $3,034,014.39.
COMMENT: There is an excellent book by Ronald Bergan called Sports in the Movies (Proteus, New York, 1982). Bergan says quite correctly that more movies have been made about boxing than any other sport. The reason for this popularity is simply that everyone likes a winner - especially a winner who overcomes numerous obstacles - and boxing offers more obstacles than anything else.
It's not just the skill and training required to be proficient at the sport, nor the real likelihood of bodily injuries, but the fact that the game is the preserve of racketeers and gangsters. To quote Bergan: "Money, money, money is what makes the boxing world go round. The boxer is... manipulated by others for profit... Money is the leitmotif of Body and Soul in which John Garfield is 'not just a kid who can fight. He's money'."
As the kid, Garfield certainly gives one of the most impressive performances of his life. It's a role he was born to play - and he doesn't cower behind a stand-in for the fight sequences either. That's him taking the punishment and dishing it out. The realism of the ring has rarely rung more true.
Polonsky has denied that the role was especially tailored for Garfield, but Charlie Davis has all the chip-on-the-shoulder cynicism, the driving ambition to claw his way to the top at any cost, the almost psychotic determination to be morally ruthless warring with vestiges of decency, the guilt and fear-ridden confusion, - in fact all the characteristic personality traits that Garfield was able to imbue with such sympathetic yet fascinating credibility.
The actor threw himself into the part with an energy and an enthusiasm that simply electrifies the screen. It's a demonstration of the power and vigor behind a force that doesn't drive clean because of the character's doubts and vacillations, his all too-human passions and weaknesses.
Garfield is often identified as the first of the screen's rebels. This is true. What isn't usually realized is that he started by playing a rebel who is passive - cynical, yes, but already defeated. As his career progressed, the rebel becomes more active - still cynical, worldly-wise and disillusioned, but now compulsively self-willed to pay any price for success. Think of it: Four Daughters through to The Postman Always Rings Twice and Body and Soul. Garfield's career declined because he abandoned this image in favor of the committedly good guys of Gentleman's Agreement and We Were Strangers.
Surrounded by a fine supporting cast (Pevney is especially chilling as the gangster) and aided by some of the most skillful technicians in Hollywood, Garfield has indeed made Body and Soul "the apex of his career". (Quoting from Rebels: The Rebel Hero in Films by Joe Morella and Edward Z. Epstein, Citadel Press, New Jersey, 1971).
OTHER VIEWS: It's a striking commentary on Hollywood and its waste of talent that Garfield . . . should have had to wait so long and impersonate so many ruinously rep¬etitious types before he could realize his full capabilities.
- Archer Winsten in The New York Post.
Garfield received only two award nominations in his entire career - both of which he lost. He was not even proposed for The Postman Always Rings Twice. Where's the justice in that? Garfield was undoubtedly the most socially committed actor to appear in Hollywood. To quote Polonsky: "They killed him for it". (Hollywood Voices edited by Andrew Sarris, published by Seeker & Warburg, London, 1971).
(Garfield was nominated as Supporting Actor in Four Daughters, but lost the count to Walter Brennan in Kentucky).