Force of Evil

USA 1948, 78 min.

DIR Abraham Polonsky

PROD Bob Roberts SCR Polonsky, Ira Wolfert CAM George Barnes
ED Walter Thompson, Art Seid CAST John Garfield, Beatrice Pearson,
Thomas Gomez, Marie Windsor PRINT SOURCE UCLA Film and
Television Archives


Nearly 50 years old now and only 78 minutes long, Force of Evil is a thing of lasting mystery and beauty. On the one hand it's a terse, moody film noir about the mob, the numbers racket and a know-all, crooked lawyer. On the other hand it is the debut film of a writer-director, Abraham Polonsky (an avowed Marxist), and a scathing diagnosis of the ills of capitalism. Polonsky was soon to be blackballed by the House Un-American Activities Committee--he would not work again for 20 years. And yet, that's not all--not all at all. Listen to the lawyer's brother, a small banker (Thomas Gomez, fat, sad and superb), offered the chance to buy into the racket: "I am sensible, I am calm. I'll give you my answer, calmly and sensibly--my final answer. My final answer is finally No. The answer is No. Absolutely and finally, No. Finally and positively, No. No, no! N.O." When it's written out, the eye sees what the ear has half-grasped: The whole film is in blank verse. And thus, the hard-boiled subject, the clipped coldness of John Garfield as the lawyer, are offset by the veiled formalism of the language. In the end, words and style mean more than noir or Marxism. This is, finally and positively, one of the most eloquent experiments in American film. But in its performances, its music (by David Raksin), and its art direction (by Richard Day--look at the staircases), it is also a knockout entertainment that deserves more, much more, than cult status.

The film is based on the novel by Ira Wolfert, Tucker's People.



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Last modified: Thursday, 31-May-2007 09:42:28 EDT