Friday, September 13, 2013

Force of Evil (1948)

Force of EvilForce of Evil is a fine example of 1940s film noir. Polonsky's direction is crisp and the pacing perfect throughout. John Garfield turns in an above average performance as Joe Morse, a lawyer turned enabler for mob boss Ben Tucker, who is played by a not entirely convincing Roy Roberts.

Force's plot turns around the effort of Tucker and Joe Morse to monopolize "policy" (i.e., the numbers racket) in New York, and Morse's effort to keep his brother, who runs a small-time numbers bank, from being crushed in the process. It is the brother-to-brother aspect of the plot that provides the real juice for this noir, with Thomas Gomez turning in a riveting performance as Joe's brother, Leo Morse. The female lead, Doris Lowry, is played well by Beatrice Pearson, but, in the end, the character stands to serve only as a sounding board for Joe as he struggles with what he has done to himself, and to his brother.

Technically, it looks as though Artisan, a perennial purveyor of poor quality dvds, has finally gotten a release right. The transfer here is crisp with solid blacks and a serviceable grayscale. The only obvious flaw on the disc can be found in the chapter selections, where the stills for the last two scenes are reversed. The audio is quite acceptable, and the score for this work is incrementally more memorable than most. As for features on this dvd, there are none -it's the film, and just the film. However, because Artisan must learn to walk before it runs, the absence of special features is forgivable in light of the effort Artisan has finally put into getting the film right.

All things considered, I recommend this dvd to those wondering what film noir is all about, and strongly recommend it to confirmed fans of the genre. If you know what noir is about, and are not a fan, this dvd is decidedly not for you.

Abrabham Polonsky's 1948 film Force of Evil is drenched with cynicism, corruption, greed, and love. Capturing the lure of noir, Force of Evil is a violent ballet which depicts the struggle of two brothers vieing for a rung on the urban ladder of existence. Joe Morse ( John Garfield) is a Wall Street lawyer with connections to an underworld kingpin. Morse is not content with being a straitlaced lawyer. Longing for a big score he becomes embroiled in a plan to drive the neighborhood number rackets out of business. Morse's greed is compromised by his protective instincts for his older brother Leo ( Thomas Gomez) who happens to operate one of the small policy games. Morse's morals and emotions are further stirred by Doris ( Beatrice Pearson) , Leo's secretary who innocently is scarred by the veil of crime. A dichotomy emerges as each brother's values about life come to the surface. Gomez is outstanding and upstages Garfield in a memorable performance. Although Leo runs a small numbers operation, he is a proud and honest man that remains loyal to his workers. He has provided poor neighborhood people with jobs and extra income and justifies the numbers racket as a simple five and dime game that might bring a windfall to a blue collar laborer. Conversely, Joe has it allWall Street law office, secretaries, and expensive suits. Yet Joe's success is partly due to his representation of his most influential client-mob boss Frank Tucker (Beau Bridges). Joe cannot break his ties with the mob and instead becomes more involved with them. Polonsky's location shooting in Manhattan adds the concrete testure and intimidation that shadows the film. In one scene, John Garfield's lone figure walking along a desolate Wall Street, with Trinity Church looming in the background creates a sense of urban alienation. Polonsky's camera work when Mr. Bower is shot is riveting. No film up to that time captured the brutality and urgency of mob gunmen at a hit scene as did Polonsky. That scene alone bridges some of the influences that Martin Scorsese speaks about in the film's prelude. Characters, scenes, and emotions from Mean Streets, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas are evident in Force Of Evil. Also Jeff Shannon's review incorrectly states that Leo Morse's secretary is played by Marie Windsor. The beautiful, buxom fixture of many noir films, Windsor played the role of Edna Tucker,the mob boss's wife. Upon release, Force of Evil was deemed a B crime flick. Recently, and rightfully so, Force of Evil has been re-evaluated as one of the most influential crime noirs in Amercian cinema.

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A richly provocative movie that could serve as a bible of film making, "Force of Evil" succeeds on a number of planes , establishing itself not only as classic noir, but as a reflection of its period. Visually, the compositions are exciting, from the elegant decor gilding the halls of power to the closeup of horror that punctuates Bower's brutal murder, the rich complexity seldom falters. There are echoes here of Eisenstein, and one can't help noticing the presence of Robert Aldrich as Assistant Director, an apprenticeship that would payoff in the visually similar "Kiss Me Deadly", suggesting that Aldrich served for a time as trustee of the blacklisted Polonsky estate. The script occasionally rises to the level of poetic Blank Verse, and is expertly intoned by John Garfield, Beatrice Pearson, and Thomas Gomez in a sweatily memorable performance. Thematically, Marxist Polonsky and co-scripter Ira Wolfert take a shot at the Darwinist world of capital, where big fish survive by eating smaller fish or by muscling in on the catch (Ficco's strategy), while working class minnows offer up dimes and quarters in hopes of instant metamorphosis. It's an ugly world where corruption and greed reach from top to bottom. Since the Production Code of the time couldn't leave matters in an unregenerate state, an upbeat ending is tacked on that defies the logic of what has gone before. Nevertheless, the sharply-etched images remain, vividly memorably. And it's ironic that any intended remake will have to consider that the biggest fish of all has taken over the numbers racket and renamed it the State Lottery. I wonder if Polonsky was amused.

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One of the great post-war noir/crime movies. The bleak cityscapes of cinematographer George Barnes, spot-on performances by John Garfield and Thomas Gomez, spare score by David Raksin, the script, the direction---everything comes together into a film that's somehow both an archetypal genre piece and also a highly individual entertainment. One wonders what kind of career Abraham Polonsky would have had if it weren't for the blacklist. Good to see, though, that this once-neglected film has lately been getting some of the recognition it deserves. Fans of John Garfield should not miss one of his most indelible performances, but just as an example of high-quality Hollywood product from the late studio era, or as one of the great "New York" movies of the forties, this film is a must-see.

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This 1949 Film Noir classic directed by Abraham Polonsky, later a victim of the Hollywood blacklist, is based on the dense and convoluted novel "Tucker's People." The script, by Polonsky and author Ira Wolfert, clearly shows the influence of James Joyce with its repetition and elaborate unpunctuated sentences. This rather unique dialogue gives the film a feel decidedly like other noted films in this genre. John Garfield plays lawyer Joe Morse, who wants to consolidate all the small-time numbers racket operators into one big powerful operation run by his boss. But his elder brother Leo, in a riveting performance by Thomas Gomez, is just a small-time operator who does not want to move up to the big leagues in which he will become a nobody. This makes "Force of Evil" a highly personal drama of the American underworld. Garfield has several excellent scenes with Beatrice Pearson as Doris Lowry, but it is Gomez's character, a large and grotesque figure whose violence is always on the edge who dominates the screen, ominously pointing out at one point, "All that Cain did was kill Abel." Marie Windsor as Edna, Leo's secretary, provides the sense of common decency that reminds Joe of when he had a conscience, although neither she nor anyone else can provide the moral anchor that will stop Joe from descending into Hell. The most memorable sequence in the film--with all due credit to George Barnes's stark cinematography--is the brutal murder of the bookkeeper Freddie Bauer (Howland Chamberlain) in the cellar, his glasses broken and his face covered in blood as his voice rises higher and higher in terror. By the time "Force of Evil" ends, with Garfield walking down flights of steps into an absolutely hopeless existence, the film has achieved an almost poetical potency.

The majority of the credit for this classic film clearly goes to Polonsky, who had written the screenplay for "Body and Soul" and provides clear evidence in his directing debut of great things to come. However, because he refused to name names to HUAC he was blacklisted. Uncredited as the director of the 1957 version of "Oedipus Rex," Polonsky did not direct/write another Hollywood film until "Tell Them Willie Boy is Here" in 1969. Polonsky is one of the lesser known names on the infamous blacklist, but "Force of Evil" strongly suggests there might not have been a greater loss in terms of the films that were never made than those he would have written and/or directed. This was a first class talent, cut down after his first giant step in the industry. Polonsky died from a heart attack in 1999. Final Note: "Force of Evil" was also released in the United States as "The Numbers Racket," "Tucker's People" and "The Story of Tucker's People."

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