Force of Evil (1948) | Bluray release

December 5th, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Abraham Polonsky; Cast: John Garfield, Thomas Gomez, Beatrice Pearson, Marie Windsor, Roy Roberts, Howland Chamberlain; USA 1948, 78’

Director/co-writer Abraham Polonsky’s stylish noir thriller is a critique of capitalism and shows how corruption affects nearly everyone in America who strives for financial gain.

Lawyer Joe Morse (Garfield), obsessed by rising from his humble background in the slums, is determined to become indispensable to his gangster master Ben Tucker (Roberts), a numbers racketeer. Morse wants to consolidate all the small-time racket operators into a single powerful organisation. But, his older brother Leo (Gomez) is one of the small and ‘honest’ operators, and he wants things to stay the way they are, rather than dealing with the gangsters who dominate the big-time. Morse must come to a decision. He offers his brother an integration into Tucker’s scheme but falls head-over heals in love with Leo’s secretary Doris (Pearson in her final screen appearance), having fought off advances from femme-fatale Edna (an elegantly poised Windsor), Tucker’s alluring wife. After a struggle, Leo agrees to Morse’s plan but then gets arrested along with Doris. The accountant Bauer (Chamberlain) gets killed by Tucker’s new mob partner, and Joe tries to shoot his way out of a dark room, chased by Tucker and the even more ruthless partner, while Doris wants to save his soul.

DoP George Barnes (Rebecca, Spellbound), who shot 144 features between 1918 and his death in 1953, excels in lighting the different locations in diffuse shades of black and grey: only the exterior shots in New York have some sort of clear light, the rest is all mysterious shadows made even dramatic by David Ruksin’s commanding orchestral score. The highlight, the gunfight in the dark, is symbolic of the merciless pursuit of money that drives the characters forward.

Both, director Abraham Polonsky (1910-1999) and the film’s star, John Garfield (1913-1952) were victims of the HUAC (House of Un-American Activities Committee) in the late 1940s. Garfield’s Hollywood career was over and he died, only 39, from a heart attack. Polonsky, who shot a feature in 1957 un-credited, at least made a come-back in 1969 with Tell Them,Willie Boy is Here, before bowing out with Romance of a Horse Thief, a war movie set in Russia in 1905. Had he not been blacklisted, Polonsky may have gone on to have a more prodigious film career. AS


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