Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA, 1946. Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Clifford Odets, Zachary Gold, based on the short story by Fannie Hurst. Cinematography by Ernest Haller. Produced by Jerry Wald. Music by Leo F. Forbstein. Production Design by Hugh Reticker. Costume Design by Adrian, Bernard Newman. Film Editing by Rudi Fehr. Academy Awards 1946.
John Garfield is a famous violinist who has just dropped out of a major performance, sitting alone and despondent in his mansion. He flashes back to the life that brought him to this place, first as a poor kid in New York City whose mother encourages his desire to play the violin despite his grocer father’s protestations, through to his awkward early years establishing himself, studying at a national music institute while practicing for hours on end at home. A friend brings him to a society party where he feels out of his element until fixing eyes on a wealthy, alcoholic Joan Crawford, who keeps her cuckolded husband on one side and her latest boy toy on the other. She takes an interest in Garfield’s talent and becomes his patroness, then toys with him sexually until she realizes that he isn’t just another lover to use and toss away. His dangerous obsession with her, which sees him throw away his devoted girlfriend and go against the wishes of his mother, threatens to get in the way of his career, while her love for him puts her own corrupt marriage and addiction into sharper focus. So shamelessly melodramatic a plot should be painful to sit through, it sounds downright trashy in description, but Jean Negulesco takes the stakes of the world of soap opera seriously and gives them style, heart and glamour, getting a world-class performance out of Crawford as a woman who long ago forgot that she could ever pull herself out of so miserable a life, and Garfield as a man who loves his art as much as he loves the chip on his shoulder. It’s deeply involving from beginning to end, graced with an exceptional performance by Ruth Nelson as Garfield’s mother, who never allows the character to fall into twee caricature but presents a grounded, opposing force to all this drippy, breathless romance and helps deliver us a full-bodied, three dimensional movie. Gorgeously photographed and, naturally, features a terrific soundtrack.