Force of Evil [1948]

Director: Abraham Polonsky
Stars: John Garfield, Thomas Gomez, Marie Windsor, Beatrice Pearson, Paul Fix
Genre: Crime, Film-Noir, Drama
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Runtime: 78 minutes

Based on an obscure crime novel titled Tucker's People, Abraham Polonsky's Force of Evil has attained classic status since its release in 1948, when film noir was thriving on the fringes of the Hollywood studio system, where the shadowy attributes of noir were allowed their fullest expression. Which is to say, this gritty drama is drenched in greed, cynicism, and corruption of the soul, as embodied by John Garfield in one of his most memorable roles. He's perfectly cast as Joe Morse, a lawyer whose connection to a ruthless racketeer has nearly destroyed his sense of morality. His participation in a rigged numbers racket could prove disastrous for his high-strung older brother (superbly played by Thomas Gomez), whose small-time policy bank stands to go broke when the rigged numbers pay off--a financial windfall for Joe's powerful boss at everyone else's expense. Joe's corruption is tempered only by remnants of guilt and his redeeming attraction to Edna (Marie Windsor), his brother's secretary, whose common decency gnaws at Joe's rotten conscience. But before Joe can rise from his self-made hell, Force of Evil takes him to the darkest pit of tragic humanity--a downward spiral perfectly expressed through George Barnes's exquisitely stark cinematography. In style and substance, this is quintessential noir, its plot unfolding with uncompromising toughness and intelligence. More's the pity, then, that director Polonsky was later victimized by the Hollywood blacklist, curtailing a promising career for two decades until Polonsky directed Robert Redford in 1969's Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here. It seems only fitting, then, that Polonsky's remarkable debut is now recognized as one of the finest dramas of its kind. --Jeff Shannon

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