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John Garfield


miller3164
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Isaac Stern, one of the great violinists of the 20th century, provided the superb sounds that emanated from John Garfield's instrument in "Humoresque". Franz Waxman composed original music for the film as well as creating the musical arrangements of Dvorak, Brahms, and Wagner's music throughout the movie. Mr. Garfield did not perform the fingering shown in the film either--it was provided by an anonymous, classically trained violinist whose hands appeared in each close-up of his Paul Boray character. This odd arrangement prompted Oscar Levant to comment that "the four of us", (Garfield, Stern, Mr. Violin Hands, and himself), should go on the road together, making beautiful music together and promoting "Humoresque". Ah, the movies, they are filled with such lovely illusions.

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As a semi-professional film scholar (meaning I get paid for my work sometimes) who also played the violin for 12 years, I think I can throw some light on this subject.

 

First of all, the violin is an easy instrument to learn, but a hard instrument to play well. So much of playing the violin lies in one's sensitivity to one's instrument, or "touch," which is why a violinist's style can be thrown off if he plays another instrument besides his own.

 

It would have been impossible for Garfield to stand still while a violinist wrapped his arms around him to play the instrument, as I have sometimes heard it explained. You have no real touch, and it's clumsy as all get-out. (I have been in both positions as a student and instructor.) It's just not possible to play the violin with any real sensitivity that way and make it look authentic. And I know that Garfield was a real stickler for authenticity.

 

It's obvious that Garfield learned to play the violin with some real technique for his medium close-ups where you actually see him playing, while a double was used for long shots and extreme close-ups (where you see only the hands playing the violin). I suspect that Garfield actually played the simpler passages, and his playing was "cleaned up" by Isaac Stern in the recording studio.

 

That said, I think that Garfield gives a remarkable performance as a violinist in HUMORESQUE, where he really "hits all the right notes."

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Dan, I'm sure that you are correct about the awkwardness of such an arrangement with the violin in "Humoresque". My sources of information about the way that this was done are Jean Negulesco's autobiography, the documentary recently shown on TCM about Garfield and the comments of Garfield's daughter, Julie, broadcast just prior to a showing of "Humoresque" during the TCM tribute month to her father.

 

Whatever the truth may be, it's a splendid piece of work!

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"Humoresque" is one of my all time faves! The final sequence when the Helen Wright character (Joan Crawford) wanders out to the beach and kills herself is one of the great sequences of all time--at least it is to me. I've wondered if the figure of Helen Wright walking along the shore is really Joan or her double? She was never all that fond of the movie. Maybe Garfield didn't give her a tumble although they did have a positive relationship in making the movie. A bit of trivia: "Humoresque" was so popular in Mexico that it played in one theater there for years. For some reason, it was retitled "Tears of my Soul." Garfield was so ahead of his time. He was doing method acting long before Clift, Brando and Dean came on the scene. Don't all of you think he would have made a terrific Howard Roark in King Vidor's l948 "The Fountainhead"? Vidor wanted him badly but author Ayn Rand nixed it. She wanted a much too old Gary Cooper for the role and he ruined the whole movie.

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