Great set-up for this one: crackling with cool ’40s dialogue, drifting in and out of swanky hotels and clubs, and tooling about in splendid convertibles. In between the highlights, there’s plenty of smoky dives and shacks for the shadowy doings. The cast fills all the gaps from classy and loaded Gladys (Geraldine Fitzgerald) to smooth-scammer-turned-besotted-lover Nick (John Garfield), down the criminal ranks to the rodent-like Doc (George Coulouris). Somewhere in between we find the ‘dame’ Toni (Faye Emerson) and the protective, loyal Doc (Walter Brennan). Then there’s sensible-shoes Charles (Richard Gaines), Gladys’ protector.
Nick comes clean with Gladys, who, perhaps more besotted than he, won’t throw in the towel on their romance. It’s maybe too convenient that Nick has enough stashed away to ‘square’ things with Charles, making good the bad (scam) investment. But that doesn’t help Nick’s deal with the other hoods. Gladys’ kidnapping scene is right down noir lane, with oil derricks, and a dark room in a dingy joint along a foggy pier. The derricks don’t just look menacing–they make a convenient threat to one of the hoods. With the good-bad guys, Nick’s able to get the upper hand, picking off the bad-bad guys one at a time. Doc and Pop’s culminating shoot-out could’ve been pulled out of a Western–not least because of the two characters’ folksy names.
I agree with those who feel that the pier scene is very long; I don’t think it hurts much, though. There’s plenty happening right up to the end. At the very end, the comic relief stuff works well as a sort of ironic postscript. That completes the circle from the very beginning, when we see Al (George Tobias) hamming it up. In between is the descent into the noir underworld–along with Nick and Gladys’ tunnel-of-love detour. The blend of noir and romance is nicely-handled, but it does pose a few problems.
It might’ve been better to do more with Toni’s role. Owing to her straying with Chet (George Shayne), Nick dumps her right away; so why does she show up again? Either leave her back East, or make her a tangible rival to Gladys. As it is, it’s incredibly easy for him to get cozy with Gladys. Even in movie-time they move a bit fast (same thing goes for Charles’ willingness to buy into the scam). The romance itself is plausible. Nick does seem a bit like a poor relation to Gladys, but their chemistry adds up; he’s a “diamond in the rough” according to Charles.
Despite some notable issues, Nobody Lives Forever explores some entertaining ground between post-war romance and noir. 7/10.