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Witches, Oil Men, and Hemingway

By tomsoterwriting - Posted on 14 October 2012


I MARRIED A WITCH (1942) is a whimsical fantasy (from whimsical fantasist René Clair) featuring Veronica Lake as a witch who falls in love with and marries straight-laced Fredric March. If that sounds like TV's Bewitched, guess again: Bewitched may have had a similar premise but it never featured the light touch and wry humor of Lake, March, and co-stars Robert BenchleySusan Hayward, and Cecil Kellaway. The screenplay is by Robert Pirosh (later a writer for TV's Combat!), Marc Connelly, and uncredited other writers, including Dalton Trumbo. It is based on the novel The Passionate Witch by Thorne Smith (of Topper fame). Delightful.


Another in the  John Garfield-as-innocent-fugitive-from-justice series, DUST BE MY DESTINY (1939) offers Garfield as Joe Bell  embittered after he is jailed for 16 months for something he did not do. Later, he gets into a fight  and is sentenced to a work farm for 90 days. Poor Joe can't seem to get a break, even when he falls in love with Mabel Alden (Priscilla Lane), stepdaughter of the sadistic work farm overseer (Stanley Ridges). When stepdad has a heart attack, naturally Sad Sack Joe gets blamed. The picture follows Joe and Mabel on the lam and married as they face the pressures of a new marriage and the threat of arrest at any moment. A bit contrived, but engaging.


John Garfield is on the run again in FLOWING GOLD (1940), this time as oilfield worker John Alexander. He is befriended by fellow oilman "Hap" O'Connor (Pat O'Brien) and they both end up vying for the affections of an oilman's daughter (Frances Farmer). It's tough and gritty Warner Brothers stuff, though Garfield must have been getting tired of the fugitive game.


THE BREAKING POINT (1950) finds John Garfield as Harry Morgan, a fishing-boat-for-hire proprietor who's hard up for cash and can't seem to get a break. Based on Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, the film, directed by Michael Curtiz, is more faithful to the original novel (but a lot less fun) than the 1944 Howard Hawks version starring Humphrey Bogart. One of Garfield's last films, it isn't very good, but it is worth watching, if only to see what pitfalls Hawks avoided when he did the first adaptation (he reportedly told Hemingway that he could make a good film out of the author's worst novel; he did, by junking much of Hemingway's story, adding Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and remaking the plot of Casablanca).


Fans of TV's delightful Doc Martin series from Britain, will want to check out SAVING GRACE (2000), directed by Nigel Cole and based on a screenplay by Mark Crowdy and Craig Ferguson, which introduces a character called "Doc Martin" – played, as he is in the TV series by Martin Clunes – but he is as different from the TV Doc as Republicans are from sane people. Nonetheless, the movie has some of the whimsical charm of the series as Grace (Brenda Blethyn) tries to save her home by harvesting hemp. The Cornwall locations are stunning,

October 14, 2012