Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: The Oscar-nominated Trumbo and the Coens’ ’50s-set Hollywood farce Hail, Caesar! have us thinking back on films by or featuring artists blacklisted during the Red Scare.
By the time He Ran All The Way came out in 1951, nearly every major creative contributor to the project—both in front of and behind the camera—had been chased out of Hollywood by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo had recently finished serving a prison sentence for “contempt of Congress” when he anonymously adapted Sam Ross’ novel. Afterward, he moved to Mexico with one of He Ran All The Way’s two credited writers, Hugo Butler, who’d also been blacklisted—as had the man Trumbo chose to be his “front” for the screenplay, Guy Endore. The year before directing He Ran All The Way, John Berry made a short documentary on Trumbo and the rest of “The Hollywood Ten” who’d stood up to to HUAC, and for his trouble he was accused of being a communist by one of those Ten, Edward Dmytryk. And for their associations with the likes of Trumbo and Berry, actors Norman Lloyd and Selena Royle, producer Paul Trivers, and cinematographer James Wong Howe had trouble finding work for years.
But the person who suffered the most post-He Ran All The Way was its star, John Garfield, who tried everything just short of ratting out his friends to get back into the movie business, but instead died of a heart attack in 1952 at age 39, having never made another film. It’d be a stretch to say that fatalism informs Garfield’s performance as petty thief Nick Robey—at least to the same degree that it casts an obvious shadow across Trumbo’s script—but there is a palpable desperation to Nick, even moreso than there is in the characters Garfield played in the hard-edged classics Body And Soul and Force Of Evil. Over the course of He Ran All The Way’s taut, tense 77 minutes, the crook goes from fleeing a botched armed robbery to taking a working-class family hostage. Each move Nick makes escalates an already dire situation, and Garfield plays him with a crushing self-awareness. The movie opens with Nick telling his partner (played by Lloyd) that he can feel that he has “no luck today,” and that they should call off the job. Debts and obligations drive them forward, into oblivion.
In later years, after the blacklist was lifted and Berry and Trumbo were able to work in Hollywood again, both men would talk about He Ran All The Way as a very personal film, translating their anxiety and anger into a tough hostage drama. It wouldn’t be hard to read even the smallest story and character beats as metaphorical, right down to the way that a cornered Nick drags innocent bystanders into his mess. But watching He Ran All The Way through those eyes would shortchange its simple, pulpy power. Howe’s deep shadows and Berry’s forced angles work to create an almost expressionistic feel, replicating how the protagonist perceives the city—as a disorienting, trap-filled maze.
And as great as Garfield is, he’s matched scene-for-scene by Shelley Winters as Peg, the dowdy spinster who’s so flattered by Nick’s attention that she takes him home. Winters would later call He Ran All The Way “one of the most remarkable and important films I was ever to do,” which is evident in the depth of her performance. Whether the movie is explicitly inspired by the blacklist or not, there’s a universality to Winters’ nervousness and uncertainty. She’s frightened by this man; she’s drawn to this man; she’s cursed by this man. Lesson learned: Know who your friends are.
Availability: He Ran All The Way is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Amazon or possibly your local video store/library.