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Tuesday, March 01, 2022

A Fifth Column Was Among Us


Dangerously They Live (1941) Takes An Early Shot At The Axis

John Garfield may have been a most badly used of major Warner stars. Note his ID in the ad at left as "Bad Boy" Garfield, the diminutive itself a slap in the face and assurance that employers would not take him serious. Year later Thank Your Lucky Stars was added evidence, as if needed, that WB was nowheresville for any effort to grow as an actor. And yet --- there would come Humoresque, Pride Of The Marines, Nobody Lives Forever, each a showcase for a more mature Garfield, and all excellent. He bailed perhaps unwisely, an early beneficiary of the DeHavilland decision that meant he wouldn't have to make up suspension time piled up over past seasons of protest. Garfield's persona was arguably ahead of its time, as if a postwar personality had arrived in town ahead of schedule. Too few moderns would recognize his contribution, or chose to recall him at all other than as another face on late, late shows. There was a TV variety hour I saw in the late 60's where a comic came out and mimicked Garfield: Yeah, yeah, sure, sure, kick the kid around, yeah, yeah, sure, sure. Within that nutshell was a legacy reduced to absurdity. I don't know that it's been put right since (any new bio unlikely, considering decades since Garfield died and so few of co-workers left).


The war might have, in fact did, fix some of his problems. Garfield couldn't serve, his bad heart foreclosing that, but he was a demon for entertaining troops, and a champion for the Hollywood Canteen second only to Bette Davis. You could say that the movie of Hollywood Canteen, where Garfield played himself, was the most sincere work he ever did. Air Force was outstanding, then Pride Of The Marines, a career high to then. Garfield's contribution stood out among male stars who did not actively serve. It surely wracked him to be 4-F. Dangerously They Live was a first war-themed vehicle he did. It was less comical than All Through The Night, where Bogart went through similar paces. In fact, the two pictures have much in common, being built around domestic espionage and ease with which Germans commit it. Were we warned by Hollywood or what? It's hard to severe-blame those senators who said movies were rushing us into battle. As with All Through The Night, there is a delicatessen which is a beehive for Nazi mischief, the sweet operating couple forced into collaboration with the Bund. A ride up their dumb waiter reveals a radio room with swastika flags hung prominent. It's like the FBI was fast asleep right up to Pearl Harbor.


Dangerously They Live plays not unlike a B, but upgraded by Robert Florey's expressive direction and support villainy by Raymond Massey, whose presence, according to some, was what pushed the show to top-of-bill level. The matter of German operatives moving in/out of hospitals, police headquarters, elsewhere to consummation of schemes, was flight of purest fantasy, but then again, how do we really know what inroads were dug by saboteurs on eve of war? Dangerously They Live was released in December 1941, and so got a first flush of business spun off declaration of hostility. Yes, figured viewers, here is what snakes were up to until finally we came to our senses and entered the fray. Initial war-themed films were happy recipients of money they'd not have scored otherwise. Dangerously They Live had a mere $293K in negative cost, and brought back a million in worldwide rentals. A new era of profit was on this war's horizon.

A Theatre Scene Dropped From Final Prints of Dangerously They Live

Again note the ad at top. It would have appeared within months, maybe weeks, of the Declarations. Many are parallel with how Across The Pacific, arriving later in 1942, was sold. Bogart socks the enemy on poster art just as John Garfield "Bops" a 5th columnist in Dangerously They Live, both subbing for all of us hot to get even. "Watch them get the U-Boat fleet! It's a pleasure to see!" is reference to a climactic orgy of miniature subs sunk in loving detail (Germans scream and drown) by allied flyers. Such segments were let-off of steam for patronage in 1942, this war, now that we were in it, proving no cinch in the actual fighting. Movies were an only way to enjoy victories that year. There was escape at theatres, and much reassurance, star personas an equal to whole battalions, or seascape of subs, put forth by the Axis. Did motion pictures help win this war? A better question might be --- could we have won without them? Dangerously They Live plays TCM and is available from Warner Archive.

6 Comments:

Blogger Unknown said...

All this and Spec O’Donnell too! Another splendid article! Thanks!

12:33 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

My brother and I used to do that "yeah yeah, sure sure" bit when we were kids. I had no idea til now where it came from.

I only started catching up on Garfield in the last year or two. There's real emotion there. Any idea if Brando was a fan?

9:28 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Chances are Brando at least met John Garfield, considering the Elia Kazan connection.

7:11 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer on real-life fifth columnists during WWII:


I suppose “Fifth Column” movies found a special niche during World War II. They suggested that the Japs and Nazis couldn’t beat us in a fair fight but had to do underhanded things on the sly. Think of Norman Lloyd’s smug smile in Hitchcock’s “Saboteur” when he drives past the flooded hulk of the “Normandie,” probably destroyed in an accident, but the idea that we had screwed up was more disagreeable than sabotage. And these movies gave a sense of mystery and suspense to the war that was more comforting than the real fear many Americans felt, wondering whether a loved one far away would ever come back.

The fact is, however, that the spies and saboteurs of the Fifth Column were always more successful and prominent in the movies than in real life. Not that there weren’t attempts at espionage or sabotage, but they almost always failed. One such occurred in June, 1942, when two German submarines dropped off eight would-be saboteurs in what was called “Operation Pastorius.” All had spent time in the U.S. and two were still U.S. citizens. One group was landed at Amagansett, Long Island, the other off Jacksonville, Florida. The Amagansett group immediately encountered a civilian beach patrol and scattered. The two Americans among them panicked and turned themselves in to the FBI. Within days, all eight were captured.

President Roosevelt was furious that German submarines were able to land saboteurs on American soil. He directed that the eight be tried before a military commission and promptly executed. That might have been fine for the six Germans, but U.S. citizens not in a military theater were entitled to a writ of habeas corpus and transfer to civilian custody. They were also entitled to be indicted by a grand jury and, if indicted—presumably for treason—to public trial by a petit jury.

The President told his attorney general that he would certainly not be handing them over to any marshal with a writ of habeas corpus.

The military trial proceeded, and though a vigorous defense was made, all were found guilty and sentenced to hang. A deal had been made for two Americans to receive pardons for turning states evidence, but Roosevelt didn’t honor it. He merely commuted their death sentences to long prison terms.

In the meantime, defense counsel played out their role, submitting the matter to the United States Supreme Court as Ex Parte Quirin. The Court quickly approved the verdict and sentences but, in its haste, provided no written opinion explaining their reasons. This was very unusual, since the writing of an opinion is intended to force a court to consider its rationale for an order or sentence. Sometimes in the writing process, judges change their minds. Postponing the opinion to hasten the executions was, at the very least, unprofessional, but in truth, the Supreme Court had been cowed by President Roosevelt’s threat a few years before to “pack it” by drastically increasing the number of justices and docile ever since.

The majority opinion finally produced by Justice Harlan Stone three months later was a curious thing. It never revealed that six of the defendants were already dead, that there were two Americans, not one, or that Congress had not suspended the writ of habeas corpus. It never explained why U.S. citizens could be tried by a military tribunal outside a theater of war or why they were not entitled to indictment by grand jury or trial by a petit jury. The Constitutional issues that should have been at the heart of the opinion were apparent by their absence. The judicial branch of the federal government had simply abdicated its authority to the executive in the name of war time expediency.

However, this has nothing to do with the entertainments at the local bijou, which were glamorous and exciting and, after all, fantasies having nothing to do with rights of free men for which the war was being fought to defend.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

Must admit to having a fondness for "third column" movies, almost entirely due to Bogie's "knock 'em on their Axis" line at the the end of ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT..... courtesy of Bill Kennedy, on Detroit TV, who as a former Warners contract player, favoured the WB films in the station's catalogue package....

8:01 AM  
Blogger Nick Patterson said...

Have you read the bio by Robert Nott from way back in 2003? It's a decent read and and vast upgrade from Larry Swindell [?] book from the 1970's.

10:09 PM  

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