John Garfield as Nick Robey, desperate small-time thief
Los Angeles, Summer 1951
Film: He Ran All the Way
Release Date: June 19, 1951
Director: John Berry
Wardrobe Credit: Joe King
John Garfield, one of the most talented and naturalistic actors of Hollywood’s “golden age”, died 70 years ago today on May 21, 1952. Garfield had long been troubled with heart health issues, but it’s been argued that the resulting stress brought on by harassment from the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee contributed to his early death at the age of 39, nearly a year after the release of his final film, He Ran All the Way (1951).
The New York-born actor made the most of his relatively short career, including an Academy Award-nominated screen debut in Four Daughters (1938). By the late ’40s, he had become a reliable star in the darkly lit dramas that would later be immortalized as film noir, including The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and the boxing-centered Body and Soul (1947), which yielded his second and final Oscar nomination.
Like so many of his silver screen contemporaries, Garfield was eventually targeted by HUAC during the post-World War II “Red Scare” witch hunt, despite increasingly sparse evidence that Garfield had ever been associated with the Communist Party. Hoping to “expose” a major star to validate its fear-mongering, the government even twisted Garfield’s USO work during World War II as potentially cover for treasonous activities. His intense defiance of the congressional bullies resulted in Hollywood all but abandoning one of its most popular stars, resulting in Garfield’s first heart attack during production of Under My Skin (1950), his penultimate acting gig for a major studio. However, as a freelance actor not connected to a major studio like his fellow HUAC targets Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, and Danny Kaye, Garfield lacked the backing of studio lawyers to fund the fight for his freedom.
“Determined to continue working, he put his energies into a project for his own production company, He Ran All the Way,” writes Carla Valderrama in her excellent volume This Was Hollywood: Forgotten Stars and Stories. “His character, a stick-up artist on the lam, spends the film desperately searching for a way out as the world closes in around him. It was a feeling [Garfield] was becoming far too familiar with himself.”
Garfield channeled all the rage and fear of his situation into his staggering portrayal of Nick Robey, a petty thief who escapes a botched payroll robbery by flirting his way into the home of bakery worker Peg Dobbs (Shelley Winters), where he holds her and her family hostage as he attempts to organize his escape.
Directed by John Berry from a script by Dalton Trumbo and Hugo Butler—all of whom were also blacklisted at the time—the fatalistic He Ran All the Way would prove to be Garfield’s last movie and perhaps also his best, a fitting swan song for an under-appreciated screen legend whose gift for blending desperation, toughness, and vulnerability remains impressive 70 years after his death.
What’d He Wear?
Film noir often conjures images of gat-packing gumshoes wearing trench coats in fedoras, but movies like He Ran All the Way illustrate how timeless and accessible many of the era’s contemporary fashions remain even generations later. Aside from a quick dip into a public swimming pool, Nick Robey dresses exclusively in a plain dark polo shirt and slacks with a light-colored sports coat pulled on once he’s recruited into the fateful robbery that necessitates a few extra pockets to store his piece.
Made from a light-colored and lighter-weight woolen twill, the single-breasted jacket follows the typical fashions of the late ’40s and early ’50s, when tailors made use of the ample materials available after the end of wartime rationing to present a strong silhouette that also presented the bold American confidence of the era… even if Nick doesn’t share his nation’s sense of self-confidence.
The wide notch lapels echo the straight, padded shoulders, which set the stage for the rest of the ventless jacket to hang down with a full—but never baggy—fit that flatters Garfield’s pugnacious physique. The sleeves are finished with four-button cuffs that are positioned closer than usual to the ends of each sleeve.
As tailoring standards have slackened in the generations since this “golden age” of both Hollywood and menswear, prevailing advice has typically reserved three-button jackets only for taller men, so the fact that the 5’7″ Garfield looks so good in his three-button sports coat speaks to the quality of its tailor as well as the overall style from the era. The jacket visually communicates its more casual nature with sporty patch pockets not just on the hips but also the left breast, rather than the dressier welted pocket found on most conventional business suit jackets.
Contemporary promotional artwork colored Nick’s sport jacket to a tan or light gray, though I imagine the true color would be lost to Hollywood history at this point. Promotional artists also seemed to consistently depict Nick’s shirt as a scarlet red, suggesting that this may indeed have been informed by the shirt’s actual color.
Though the collared pullover shirt with its short placket resembles what we commonly call “polo shirts” today, Nick’s shirt predates that sartorial shorthand and would have likely just been marketed in the early ’50s as a type of “sport shirt”. (Depending on which side of the Atlantic one was at the time, a “polo shirt” in the U.S. would have described a Brooks Brothers button-down while a UK shopper may have been directed to a “polo-neck” or turtleneck.)
Rather than the piqué-woven cotton of the tennis shirts popularized by Rene Lacoste decades earlier, Nick’s dark shirt is made from a plain-stitched jersey-knit combed cotton that offers the same stretchy and soft-wearing properties as it does on modern T-shirts, though the thickness and soft pilling of Nick’s shirt suggest a double-knit rather than the common single-knit.
The shirt’s set-in short sleeves end about two inches above Garfield’s elbows. The long-pointed spread collar has welted edges and a subtly shaped roll. The placket extends to mid-chest with only a single recessed 4-hole button positioned in the center; when Nick chooses to button his shirt to the neck, he fastens a short loop on the top-left to a smaller 2-hole button positioned under the right collar leaf, similar to the loop collars found on some casual camp shirts. Both buttons are dark plastic.
Nick wears dark wool gabardine pleated trousers with an appropriate long rise to Garfield’s natural waistline. The double sets of reverse-facing pleats add roominess through the legs, which are full from the hips down to the cuffed bottoms. The side pockets have a gently slanted entry, and the jetted back pockets each close through a single button. Nick holds up his trousers with a dark leather belt that has a shining metal single-prong buckle.
Nick’s shoes are primarily dark leather cap-toe oxfords, though there’s a brief shot during the robbery sequence where we clearly see him wearing apron-toe penny loafers. Although this is a continuity error, these slip-on loafers—which Bass had introduced as the iconic “Weejuns” during the 1930s—are contextually appropriate footwear with this dressed-down outfit.
The literal and figurative heat on Nick Robey find him often stripping down to just his undershirt, a white ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt of the style that had been pioneered by Jockey during the 1930s as the “A-shirt” (for “athletic shirt”) but would be disparagingly immortalized as a “wife-beater” the following decade after the much-publicized mugshot of a Detroit man who had been arrested for domestic abuse.
Nick’s white A-shirt resembles the style often found on G.I.-issue undershirts during World War II with the wide armhole bands overlapping with the neckline band over the narrow shoulder straps. As seen while he’s getting dressed at the start of He Ran All the Way, Nick’s boxer briefs are also plain white cotton.
During the brief sequence where Nick hides among the swimmers at the public Long Beach Plunge pool, he changes out of his sport jacket, polo, and slacks into a pair of dark polyester swim trunks with a short inseam, elastic waistband, zip-fly, single pleats, and a scalloped flap pocket that closes through a button over the right hip.
It’s here that he meets Peg, who explains to him that “I don’t feel like relaxing when there’s nothing but water under me.” Given that she’s played by Shelley Winters—who wouldn’t fare so well at sea in A Place in the Sun, The Night of the Hunter, and The Poseidon Adventure, to name a few—she may have a point, but at least Nick isn’t suggesting a canoe trip or telling her children the little story of right-hand, left-hand.
Nick Robey packs the favorite firearm of film noir figures, the snub-nosed revolver. Though this type of weapon found some functional ancestry in smaller revolvers like the British Bulldog, the .38 “snub” emerged as a 20th century phenomenon, the result of ongoing competition between American firearms giants Colt and Smith & Wesson and the increasing needs to arm law enforcement.
Both Colt and Smith & Wesson had developed 2″-barreled variants of their standard service revolvers through the first few decades of the century until Colt changed the “belly gun” game with the 1927 introduction of the Colt Detective Special, a powerful yet compact revolver specifically designed for concealment among plainclothes policemen, as its name implies. Though more anemic calibers were available, the Detective Special was primarily chambered for the impressive .38 Special round, which had been introduced by Smith & Wesson around the turn of the century and had risen to become a police standard by the roaring ’20s. The frame was slightly reduced in size from the Colt Official Police, though its swing-out cylinder could still carry a full six rounds of ammunition.
Despite the constabulary implications of its name, the Colt Detective Special quickly found favor on both sides of the law as illustrated by Garfield wielding one during the heist sequence and the finale of He Ran All the Way.
A firearms-related continuity error in He Ran All the Way replaces Nick’s Colt with a Smith & Wesson in some instances, most visibly while holding the Dobbs family hostage. The key visual differences are:
- the ejector rod (S&W locks the rod into a lug under the barrel, while the Colt’s rod hangs free)
- the cylinder release (S&W’s flat release pushes toward the cylinder, while the Colt’s larger and rounder release pulls away from it), and
- the grips (the screen-used S&W has diamond grips, while the screen-used Colt has the checkered post-1927 grips with the branded emblems)
Otherwise, both weapons are relatively cosmetically similar with their blued finish, brown wooden grips, and half-moon front sights. Both are also rigged with six-round cylinders too, which rules out that Garfield might be carrying an early version of the Smith & Wesson Chiefs Special (later designated “Model 36”), a five-round .38 snub that had just been introduced the previous year.
Nick’s S&W snub is likely a shortened version of the Smith & Wesson Military & Police revolver, which was more traditionally encountered with its longer service length barrel and was a prevailing police sidearm for much of the 20th century, following its introduction alongside the .38 Special round in 1899.
Likely in response to the popularity of the Detective Special, Smith & Wesson introduced shorter snub-nose barrels available for its Military & Police revolver in the 1930s, including the two-inch variant that Garfield appears to carry in He Ran All the Way.
Smith & Wesson would re-designate the Military & Police as the “Model 10” when it changed to a primarily numerical naming system later in the ’50s.
How to Get the Look
With only minimal adjustments (if any), John Garfield’s dressed-down twill sports coat over a dark polo shirt and slacks from his cinematic swan song He Ran All the Way would make a comfortable and attractive “smart casual” outfit for any gent more than 70 years later.
- Light woolen twill single-breasted 3-button sport jacket with wide notch lapels, patch breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Dark jersey-knit combed cotton short-sleeved polo shirt with wide spread collar, loop-button neck closure, and single-button placket
- Dark wool gabardine double reverse-pleated high-rise trousers with belt loops, gently slanted side pockets, button-through jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Black leather apron-toe penny loafers
- Black socks
- White ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt
- White cotton boxer shorts
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Nobody loves anyone.
James Wong Howe’s characteristically excellent cinematography serves John Garfield well, and I wanted to include a selection of some of my favorite shots that also highlight Garfield’s costume and remain a high point of film noir.