John Garfield is said to have been the first student of "The Method" to succeed in Hollywood, and in so doing changed the face not just of American acting, but the standard of film acting as well. Garfield was more than just an actor who played defiant rebels from the wrong side of the tracks. His natural style brought the internal rhythms and emotions of a character to the fore. While Edward G. Robinson and Paul Muni had played the first tier of such characters on screen (and have been rightly heralded as two of the greatest American actors of all time)
John Garfield's interpretation of the same sort of anti-heroes could break through sans expressionistic lighting and sound and was cloaked in a sexual energy that neither Robinson nor Muni had.
Gene Kelly with John Garfield (two of most notorious Hollywood's ladies men)
Garfield got a part in the Broadway production of 'Lost Boy' (1932), and was first credited as Jules Garfield. He then appeared in 1932's 'Counsellor-at-Law' in Chicago. He became a member of the Group Theatre in 1934 and is legendary for his stage portrayals. He rose to prominence in 1935 based on his work in two Clifford Odets plays, 'Waiting for Lefty' and 'Awake and Sing!', both directed for the Group Theatre by Harold Clurman.
While playing the role of Henry Suskind in 'Counsellor-at-Law' in Chicago, Garfield found out that the local chorus girls and bit players were competing to see who could get him into bed first. One of them finally succeeded, pulling him into a spare bedroom during a cast party. It may have been his first time, but he was smart enough to use a contraceptive. (His wife Robbe recalled having been provided with one of the Margaret Sanger diaphragms when they made love for the first time.) He was just past 19 years old, and as with acting, Garfield was a quick study when it came to the opposite sex.
And also as with acting, he got hooked. He may not have seen his one-night stand as being unfaithful to Robbe, for the two hadn't officially consummated their affair. Sex was something he was good at, and it reassured him that he had talent. That was something no one could take away from him.
John Garfield as Joe Morse and Beatrice Pearson as Doris Lowry in "Force of Evil" (1948) directed by Abraham Polonsky
"Doris, too, is nearly destroyed by the darkness of business, the desire for the "ruby" of money. Newcomer Beatrice Pearson plays her character in a naive, ingenue way, and represents the force of evil within us all. As a young worker at Leo's bank, she denies her own guilt in the shady business, but when quick-talking Garfield accuses her of being in on a "Policy" racket that takes nickels from hard-working folks who should be paying their weekly insurance premiums, she quits. Morse's words make her realize the truth, but she gets too comfortable in her easy transition to knowledge, and assumes, through the power of quitting, that she understands more than she does. He later asks her out, buys her flowers and offers her a metaphorical "ruby." She finally accepts his attractive wickedness and tries to work from within it, being neither naive or judgmental. At the night club, she confesses her redemptive love, "Oh, Joe, I don't want this money. Nobody wants it. I want to somehow to get you, Joe, to save you for yourself and myself. Somehow you're wild and crazy and stuck in a trap and somehow you won't fight to get out," she pauses, grabbing his face, the repetition of "somehow" suggesting the chaotic randomness of their love. "And somehow I love you." She kisses him and helps move the tarnished hero towards grace". Source: www.imagesjournal.com
"In 'Body and Soul', John Garfield stars as the young boxer Charley and Lilli Palmer plays his love interest Peg Born. At a celebration dinner, he meets and dances with Peg and falls for her right away. As his need for cash increases his morals decrease. He gets involved with the gold-digging Alice at the expense of his relationship with Peg.
German actress Lilli Palmer was cast as the boxer's lover, Peg (the "soul" of the title).
Newcomer Hazel Brooks was the "body". Brooks, a model from Cape Town, was the wife of Body and Soul's art director Cedric Gibbons. Brooks wanted to wear a light colored sweater to show off her ample bosom. Rossen ordered her to wear a black sweater.
"A black sweater doesn't bring out your bosom", Brooks told the press. "Why wear one? I told the jerks to make it light gray." One of the "jerks," Rossen, tried to explain to Brooks that not all men were interested in looking at her breasts. "I didn't think we were appealing to that group", she responded.
John Garfield as Mickey Borden and Priscilla Lane as Ann Lemp in "Four Wives" (1939) directed by Michael Curtiz.
Garfield gets to inject a little Mickey Borden into the proceedings when he says to Lilli Palmer, "You think I like standin' around waiting for the world to decide what to do with me?"
Polonsky's transitions are a bit abrupt, and Garfield is asked to work extra hard as an actor to make those transitions successfully work.
Lilli Palmer and John Garfield in "Body & Soul" (1947) directed by Robert Rossen
To his credit, he does make them work as he moves from it 20-something kid to a disillusioned middle-aged man in the course of about 30 minutes of screen time.
"Body and Soul" is the only film to allow Garfield's screen character to mature over the course of ten years (though none of the other actors seem to age a day). He plays a weak, amoral character, a surprisingly unsympathetic man who is roused out of his slumber not by pride or morals or love but by an unexpected blow to the head. Garfield claimed to understand Charley Davis well. "I didn't have to do much probing into Charley's life and aims," he wrote in 'Opportunity: Journal of Negro Lift', magazine. "It was all too clear to me because my own boyhood had been so similar." -"He Ran All The Way: The Life of John Garfield" (2004), by Robert Nott
Piper Laurie and Paul Newman as Sarah Packard and Eddie Felson in "The Hustler" (1961) directed by Robert Rossen
“Then we twisted it, didn’t we, Bert? Of course, maybe that doesn’t stick in your throat, ‘cause you spit it out just the way you spit out everything else. But it sticks in mine. I loved her, Bert. I traded her in on a pool game. But that wouldn’t mean anything to you because who did you ever care about. ‘Just win,’ ‘Win!’ you said, ‘win, that’s the important thing.’ You don’t know what winning is, Bert. You’re a loser. ‘Cause you’re dead inside and ya can’t live unless you make everything dead around ya! Too high, Bert - the price is too high.
If I take it, she never lived. She never died. And we both know that’s not true, Bert, don’t we, huh? She lived, she died. Boy, you better, you tell your boys they better kill me, Bert. They better go all the way with me, but if they just bust me up, I’ll put all those pieces back together again, then so help me, so help me God, Bert, I’m gonna come back here and I’m gonna kill you.” —Fast Eddie, The Hustler (1961).
"In 'The Hustler', Robert Rossen tried to grapple with some of John Garfield's story, the texture of failure and success, all the peculiar twists of talent, and the kind of vulturous deadness that attaches itself to talent, eats it alive. This is a different Newman, not an acting mask. He's lithe. And the laziness is gone. He's not a beautiful sleepwalker. He's full of danger now. Perhaps it's Eddie's own deep flaw, his need to wound himself, that touched Newman, opened up his wounds. 'The Hustler' was almost a companion film for 'Body & Soul' and has the courage to investigate cowardliness and those dark corners of the psyche where few American directors had gone before. It's a film about human dirt". -"Movieland: Hollywood and the Great American Dream Culture" by Jerome Charyn (1996)