Sunday, March 3, 2013

Castle on the Hudson: I'll Do Anything To Get Outta Here!

This is my contribution to the John Garfield 100th Birthday Blogathon, hosted by They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To.  Please take the time to read all of the wonderful tributes to this very special actor.


Let's see.... tough but charming hoodlum lives the high life in the Big Apple. He is a swell dresser, has a load of untrustworthy "friends," and a swell dish for a girlfriend. A bit of bad weekend luck (Saturday is always his bad luck day) gets him sent up the river to that famous Castle on the Hudson known as Sing Sing. He thinks he can run the joint, but soon the reforming warden sets him straight. After some drama, a few laughs, and ultimate redemption, the mug goes to the chair a better man. Plus, everyone talks very fast and a 2-hour movie is condensed into 77 minutes. Must be a Warner Brothers production, right? Right.

1940's "Castle on the Hudson" is a remake of 1932's "20,000 Years in Sing Sing." I'm not really sure why Warner felt it necessary to recycle the story, but perhaps it seemed a good fit for its stars John Garfield and Ann Sheridan.

Garfield plays Tommy Gordon, an almost unlikable hood who went to the James Cagney school of cockiness (and graduated at the top of the class). There is no doubt that Garfield can handle the little tough but tender guy role with ease, but it has all been done before. He is wonderful but wasted. Wasted, too, is Ann Sheridan as Kay, at the peak of her celebrated "oomph" but required only to look beautiful and sincere while gazing through tear-glistened orbs.

But it's a good, professional Warner product with the usual wonderful group of supporting players, so let's focus on the fun things:

Tommy is a very natty dresser and prides himself on his good taste. In fact it is a lost shirt stud that is found at the scene of the crime that does him in. Tommy's vanity is rather adorable and Garfield puts it over with great charm.
Tommy after the heist - well dressed and ready for fun

Kay has a really neat wardrobe, too. The costumes by Howard Shoup are beautiful and I wish I could have found some better photos to illustrate how lovely Sheridan looked in them.
It always amazes me how these molls seem to
have evening gowns at the ready
An interesting cast member here is Burgess Meredith as an intellectual fellow inmate who organizes a break but ends up choosing a dramatic death over the chair. He is a bit out of  sync with the rest of the Warners rhythm section and shakes the film up a bit by his presence.
A publicity photo of the 3 stars
Following the story of Tommy's love of good clothes, there is a fun scene where he has to submit to the prison issued uniform. He goes from baggy, to union suit to rags before we finally see him in a better fit.
Tommy in rags: still cute
The ever-reliable Pat O'Brien as the warden who finds the good in Tommy. Sure, we've seen it before, but he always makes things better just by being there, doesn't he?
It is exhausting trying to reform all of these A-list stars!

Ann Sheridan, looking beyond beautiful after she leaps out of a speeding car to avoid Jerome Cowan's animal advances. She also lives in a beyond swank apartment that looks big enough to host the Superbowl. How does she afford it?
Right after the leap from the car and right
before she plugs Cowan. What a gal.

While the film is fun in an ordinary sort of way, the genre is tired. At one point Tommy Gordon cries "I'll do anything to get outta here!" and you get the feeling Garfield is saying the same thing. He can do this sort of role with his hands tied behind his back. He is ready for something better, something more challenging, something more modern. He belongs to the future, not to the past.

Happy birthday, Johnny Boy - you look great at 100.


25 comments:

Caftan Woman said...

Yes. You are right. Pat O'Brien makes everything better just by being there.

Spencer Tracy broke my heart in "20,000 Years in Sing Sing". Garfield and crew impress, but don't make me ache.

movieclassics said...

I think it's a shame this sticks so closely to the same script and often even the same shots as '20,000 Years in Sing Sing' - as you say it makes it hard to see why they remade it - but John Garfield and Ann Sheridan are both so good in it even though they had done many other similar roles. Funnily enough when I saw the earlier film I kept on thinking that Pat O'Brien should really have played the warden - though it is also nice to see him in roles where he gets to do something different. Really enjoyed your posting and the great choice of pictures to illustrate it. Judy

FlickChick said...

CW - well, I have to agree. You can see why Garfield wanted to get out.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Judy. It was kind of hard to get overly enthused about the film - both Garfield and Sheridan were so wasted here.

Samantha said...

I didn't know that much about him so thanks for the blog. I loved it.

Dawn Sample said...

Thank you for introducing me to film that I have not yet seen, but.. I do know that John Garfield, makes a perfect mobster.

said...

It sounds like a nice movie for someone who has in high regard another prison movie, I am a fugitive from a chain gang. Yet, I must prefer the original, because I love pre codes. Well, why not a double feature someday?
Kisses!

Patti said...

I had watched "20,000 Years in Sing Sing" a year or so before I caught this one, and when I watched this for the first time, I had no idea it was a remake. Within minutes of the film starting, I thought, "Oh, I know this movie...it's a remake of a Spencer Tracy/Bette Davis flick."

I find them both to be solid, 3-star films (good, enjoyable, like-it-okay). Nothing spectacular, but enjoyable viewing nonetheless. I do prefer this one a bit more just because of my love for Garfield.

Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon. I'm glad to have met you through the event.

Jeff Flugel said...

Great post, FlickChick, done with a pleasing light touch. I'm not a big prison movie fan, but this one sounds fun enough, especially with that cast. I think you make a good point that Garfield could do this sort of role in his sleep and is so ready to move on to bigger and better things. Fortunately they were soon on the way (even if he had to force the issue himself by going independent).

Alyssa LM said...

I really enjoyed reading your review. I haven't seen either version before but will check out the Garfield one just for the cast. I Love Ann Sheridan and I agree she was often under used. My fav of hers has to be 'I Was A Male War Bride', she had such fantastic biting wit that I can image she was a good foil to Garfield.

DKoren said...

Garfield plays Tommy Gordon, an almost unlikable hood who went to the James Cagney school of cockiness (and graduated at the top of the class).

Hee! That cracked me up. I have not see "20,000 Years in Sing Sing" or this one, and now you've got me wanting to check both out for myself.

Very nice review.

Victoria said...

That was a very good review. I know for sure I haven't seen 20,000 Years in Sing Sing and am fairly sure I haven't seen Castle on the Hudson either. But I love Ann Sheridan so it would be good to watch, just for coupling of her and John Garfield:)

Christian Esquevin said...

Thanks for covering this John Garfield film FlickChick - even though its not the best vehicle for his talents. Although set in New York state, perhaps the motivation for making this film was more likely the daily news in Los Angeles. Not usually known as a mobster town there was still a lot in the local newspapers about mobsters like Bugsy Siegel, Micky Cohen, and others along with LA's crooked cops and politicians. And this was a stepping stone for Garfield to do "The Postman Always Rings Twice," and "Humoresque."

R. D. Finch said...

I enjoyed your post probably more than I would the movie, which I don't recall ever having seen, although I did see the Tracy-Davis version not long ago (I couldn't resist that pairing) and thought it good but not great. It's hard to write on a movie that one finds lackluster, but you consistently managed to find amusing things to say about the film's deficiencies without ever getting catty or flippant--not an easy thing to do, but you did it exceedingly well.

silverscreenings said...

Fabulous review!

You posed good questions about molls and their ever-ready evening gowns + their super-sized apartments. I guess crime does pay after all! :)

FlickChick said...

Dawn - it's such a "B" film, but Garfield makes is almost an "A"

FlickChick said...

Le - while not a classic, Warners had the prison movie down pat.

FlickChick said...

Hi Patti - it is sure hard to beat Tracy & Davis, but Garfield & Sheridan do have their own special glow. Thanks so much!

FlickChick said...

Hi Jeff! Yes - Garfield was ready to break out of his prison!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Alyssa. I love Ann Sheridan, too - she is one of my favorites.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, DKoren - really - all I kept hearing in my head while watching was "paging Jimmy Cagney!"

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Victoria. I think Ann always had great chemistry with her leading men (even Jack Benny!).

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Christian. It was kind of hard to get excited about this film, but you could see that Garfield was just too good for this kind of stuff.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, R.D. - well, with the Cagney blogathon coming up, I am in a total Warners frame of mind these days!

FlickChick said...

silverscreenings - I know! I always wonder why they always have all these great glad rags and swanky apartments and appear never to work. Hmmmm....