Abraham Polonsky

Sog.: dal romanzo Tucker’s People (1943) di Ira Wolfert. Scen.: Abraham Polonsky, Ira Wolfert. F.: George Barnes. M.: Arthur Seid, Walter Thompson. Scgf.: Richard Day. Mus.: David Raksin. Int.: John Garfield (Joe Morse), Thomas Gomez (Leo Morse), Marie Windsor (Edna Tucker), Howland Chamberlin (Freddy Bauer), Roy Roberts (Ben Tucker), Paul Fix (Ficco), Stanley Prager (Wally), Barry Kelley (Egan), Paul McVey (Hobe Wheelock), Beatrice Pearson (Doris Lowry). Prod.: Bob Roberts per Roberts Productions, Enterprise Studios. 35mm. Bn.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

A film that might have been thrown like acid at the solemn, fearful mindlessness of American society: Abraham Polonsky’s unbelievable Force of Evil (1948). Why ‘unbelievable’? Because it is hard to see how that film got made. Even its enthusiasts struggle to say it was just a film noir or a John Garfield picture, another romance about organized crime. But […] the organized crime in Force of Evil isn’t one more adolescent noir dream loaded with tough male wishful thinking and an abiding fear of women. It’s a black fable out of Karl Marx, but shot as if Fritz Lang had made it in Germany. And then there’s the talk. Force of Evil is 82 minutes and packed with dynamic language. There are two brothers: Leo Morse (Thomas Gomez), older, humbler, sweatier, with a bad heart, but the owner of a small “bank” (it’s a shop for the numbers racket); and Joe Morse (Garfield), younger, arrogant, a fire-cracker, maybe without a heart, the brainy lawyer to the racket that plans a killing on the July Fourth lottery to wipe out all the small banks so the Mob can monopolize money-lending. […]
What makes the film so much more than a noir melodrama is the way that controlled tension between criminal lowlifes and poetic talk is matched by the stylization of décor and action soaring above the elements of a crime film. The ambition in the film’s look begins with a view of Trinity Church jammed between Wall Street towers and ends with metaphor as Joe descends endless steps beneath the George Washington Bridge to find a corpse in the river. Along the way, the film sees every staircase as a moral structure. […] This willful and self-conscious artistry has disturbed some viewers – they complain that it’s not playing fair by the rules of film noir. But Polonsky’s target was the structure of capitalism and the way the numbers racket was a mockery of the banking system. Not too long after Force of Evil opened, Polonsky was blacklisted: he had been a Communist party member as well as an OSS agent who went behind enemy lines. John Garfield was so pressured to testify that his weak heart undermined him. He died in 1952, aged 39. […] America was once a country for dangerous men and brave ideas, and Force of Evil (along with Joseph Losey’s The Prowler) may be the best and most disconcerting films made by people who were headed for exile or the underground.

David Thomson, “The New Republic”, 2012

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Preserved by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Film Foundation