With the Group Theater in the late 1930s, he played in Clifford Odets’s Golden Boy. Warners signed him and launched him as male interest in a Michael Curtiz sentimental series: Four Daimhters (38). Daughters Courageous (39), Four Wives (39) (in flashback), and in Juarez (39, William Dieterle). But by Hollywood standards, Garfield was rugged, half-ugly, and belligerent; indeed, as a kid, he had been in and out of Bronx street gangs. He soon became typed as a social outsider, so intransigent that he often went wrong: They Made Me a Criminal (39, Busby Berkeley) and Dust Be My Destiny (39, Lewis Seiler). He was a prisoner in Litvaks Castle on the Hudson (40) and an ex-prisoner in East of the River (40, Alfred E. Green). There followed Curtizs The Sea Wolf (41), Litvaks Out of the Fog (41), Robert Floreys Dangerously They Live (42), and Victor Fleming’s Tortilla Flat (42), on loan to MGM. War brought him parts as one of the crew with a chip on his shoulder: in Hawks’s Air Force (43) and Daves’s Destination Tokyo (43) and Pride of the Marines (45), where he is terrific and raw as the blinded hero.
He broadened his range after the war, at MGM, shaded by Lana Turner in Tav Garnett’s The Postman Always Rings Twice (46) and in two Negulesco women’s pix: Nobody Lives Forever(46) and, with Joan Crawford in Humoresque (47) where Isaac Stem’s hands and a clever suit allowed him to “play” the violin.
His contract with Warners ended, Garfield set up independently, and through his own company, Enteqirise Productions, he starred in Rossen’s Body and Soul (47), as a boxer, and Polonsky’s Force of Evil (48). Body and Soul was tough but orthodox. But Force of Evil allows Garfield to show what a stylish little Caesar he could be. In truth, his crooked organizer is mesmerizing. He also played the Jew in Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement (47) and was a Cuban revolutionary in Huston’s We Were Strangers (49).
The tone of his later work, plus the novelty of his breakaway and the list of his associates, brought him under suspicion as a possible Communist. Uncooperative with the House Committee on Un-American Activities, he found it hard to get movie work, played the actor in Odets’s The Big Kjiife on stage, but was forced back to earlier modes: Under My Skin (50, Negulesco) and The Breaking Point (50, Curtiz), a remake of To Have and Have Not with Garfield too short on Bogart’s panache, but nearer to Hemingway’s mid-1930s radicalism. He died of a heart attack having reacted badly to neglect, and after a last interesting movie, John Berrv’s He Ran All the Way (51). As Polonsky has said, “He defended his street- boy’s honor and they killed him for it. ”