February 24, 2016

John Garfield, Body and Soul


From his very first moments in Body and Soul, John Garfield immediately caught my eye. It's not so much his looks, or the scars which are featured rather prominently on his face in the film, but rather his immediate intimacy with the camera. He has that way about him - he is considered a predecessor to method actors Brando, Clift, et al after all - and has an allure to him which draws you in inexplicably.

I think that much of his appeal is in his packaging. Externally he conveys rugged, old-timey masculinity. When Charley speaks, specifically to Peg early on, you're witness to his goofy charm. And facially, within short glimpses, you see catch a little bit of Garfield's concealed vulnerability and sensitivities. He's doesn't possess the artificiality or any heavy senses of self a la Ronald Colman or Laurence Olivier or William Powell. He isn't plain or deadpan like Gregory Peck or Gary Cooper tend to be. In other words, he has soul (and body too), and it's this very soul that makes Garfield's performance so watchable. Luckily for us, Garfield has the pizazz to drive this performance forward - he breathes life into Charley, and scenes in which nothing of note is apparently happening are made a little bit more attractive due to Garfield's seemingly effortless style of acting. When I reflect upon this performance I think of specific moments in which the camera lingers on his face - the opening shot in which he wakes up uttering Ben's name, the moment when he revisits Peg after being away for some time and you can feel the longing that gleams from his eyes - there is a layered execution presented to us here in a guise that might read as simple. The role of Charley Davis is one that easily could have been botched and forgotten had it been played by a less absorbing actor. And I'm not one who is fond of macho male-type characters, but I'm of the belief that while this isn't the trickiest role (many macho male characters of the time aren't), Garfield positively elevates the material and turns it into a gem.


  1. This performance got to me. It's visceral and honest. I knew little about Garfield before this but sought out much of his work afterword. I think he makes Charlie a 3-dimensional character where 2 would have sufficed in the '40s. He was black-listed for his participation in the legendary 'Group Theater' and this derailed his career, but "Body and Soul" still makes a great case for his skill as an actor.

  2. I am not familiar with his work, but those photos look intense. :P

  3. +really one of the best actors of all time..truly very under-appreciated...but not by me...I know his work he was one of the all time great actors!