James Garner

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

James Garner Pencil Portrait
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Last update: 26/02/2017

James Garner’s death in July 2014, came as no surprise to his close friends and family. The popular actor, who had open-heart surgery in 1988 and suffered a stroke in 2008, died of natural causes at the age of 86. He had been in poor health for a number of years.

How ironic, that news of his death should have broken on the very day that the BBC screened his 1966 movie Grand Prix. According to the film director Ron Howard, ‘people around F1 said he had the talent to be a pro driver’.

Looking fit, tanned and engagingly handsome, the very essence of his popular appeal is encapsulated in that movie. Yet Garner’s ability ran far deeper than mere lightweight froth, a Tv Emmy and Oscar nomination the merest hint of a multi faceted acting talent.

We are fortunate to have this celluloid legacy to enjoy – as a young man, he was wounded twice in the Korean conflict, some years before he commenced his acting career in the late 50’s.

Recommended listening

36 Hours soundtrack (1965)

The legendary Dimitri Tiomkin joins the FSM Classics series with 36 Hours, a 1964 M-G-M war thriller starring James Garner as Jefferson Pike, an American army officer kidnapped by the enemy. Led by Rod Taylor, the Germans set up an elaborate ruse to convince Pike that the war has been over for six years and he is suffering from amnesia—all in an attempt to coax from him vital information. Eva Marie Saint co-stars as Anna Hebner, a concentration camp refugee forced to act as Pike’s nurse who becomes his love interest.

Coming off of The Guns of Navarone, Tiomkin provided a taut, piano-dominated score with an accent on stealth—flamboyant where necessary, but blending with the naturalistic style of filmmakers George Seaton and William Perlberg. The muscular main title is a highlight, with an up-and-down theme for pizzicato strings alternating with full orchestra, always embellished by piano. Inside the military hospital, Tiomkin’s muted, atmospheric cues capture Pike’s disoriented state of mind; outside, the rambunctious scoring adds a sense of scope to the film’s black-and-white cinematography, as the brainwashing plot gives way to an escape-and-pursuit adventure. Throughout is a memorable, rhapsodic love theme, “A Heart Must Learn to Cry.”

36 Hours was originally issued by Vee-Jay Records on LP at the time of the film’s theatrical release. The LP was reissued in the late 1970s by Varèse Sarabande. FSM’s complete-score premiere on CD is remixed and remastered in stereo from the original three-track masters, doubling the playing time of the LP and adding bonus tracks of the song’s vocal version and piano acetate demos, as well as a jazz trio improvisation of the main title. As always, the illustrated booklet provides background on the film, composer and score, and detailed information on the placement of unused cues.

Recommended viewing

The Great Escape (1963)

36 Hours (1965)

More than 32 years after his death, Roald Dahl remains one of the most prolific on-screen storytellers, his astonishingly imaginative books remaining ripe for adaptation – often numerous times over – for both cinema and television.

Following the publication of his first novel The Gremlins (no, not that one) in 1943, which started life as a serialised story in Cosmopolitan and was inspired by his Norwegian mother’s folk tales, Dahl went on to create numerous characters who have become favourites for generations. Think of the deliciously tempting world of Charlie and that wondrous chocolate factory, for example, or the adventures of Matilda and her incredible mind.

“36 Hours” is based on his 1944 short story “Beware of the dog,” originally published in Harper’s magazine. In a transplant from the British characters and setting of Dahl’s story, Garner plays an American major captured by the Germans during World War II. They attempt to brainwash him into believing the war is over and that he is safe in an Allied hospital, so that he will divulge plans for the Normandy D-day landings.

Garner later wrote in his memoirs that he felt the movie didn’t work because there was no suspense; every viewer knew that the D-Day invasion was a success leading to victory in Europe but that he did enjoy working with Eve Marie Saint and director George Seaton. His reflections, whilst valid, remain a little harsh; after all everyone knew the Titanic was doomed to sink but that hardly affected the box office takings for Cameron’s 1997 epic.

Rod Taylor is the sympathetic German doctor and the film’s exposition is excellent. The second half is somewhat contrived but not enough to have consigned this thriller to Hollywood’s curiosity corner.

Grand Prix (1966)

Support your local sheriff (1969)

Murphy's Romance (1985)

My Fellow Americans (1996)

The Notebook (2004)

Recommended reading

The Garner Files - A memoir (James Garner and Jon Winokur) 2011

“I wanted fortune, but never fame. Not only is fame fleeting, it’s also deceiving. People are constantly telling you how wonderful you are. Your ego blows up like a balloon. You get sucked in by your own publicity and lose your grip on reality. It’s a drug; you need more and more of it. It’s also a bargain with the devil: you win fame and lose anonymity. It sounds like a fair trade. It isn’t.”

Garner’s autobiography – published three years before his death – and a modestly sized volume that offers up some hitherto unknown revelatory aspects to his life; the physical abuse he suffered at the hands of his stepmother, his active service and war injuries sustained in the Korean conflict, a history of drug use, his political liberalism and a fortuitous entry into the world of acting

The usual preoccupation with golf and racing cars fills two whole chapters, an unwelcome diversion from the central themes of the book for all but the keenest of sport enthusiasts. Nevertheless his avoidance of fairway lessons, and a reliance on his observational skills would stand him in good stead, much in the same way as he had learned his early acting craft.


James Garner - Charlie Rose interview 2002