Saturday, June 1, 2013

204. Force of Evil (1948)

Running Time: 82 minutes
Directed By: Abraham Polonsky
Written By: Abraham Polonsky, Ira Wolfert, from the novel Tucker's People by Ira Wolfert
Main Cast: John Garfield, Beatrice Pearson, Thomas Gomez, Marie Windsor, Howland Chamberlain


Quick update to the final movies I'll be watching for the blog: I was ultimately unable to get a hold of "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" and "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", so my hopes of finishing up the 1940s is out the window. No worries though and I shouldn't have any trouble tracking them down when I reactivate my Netflix membership, whenever I come back from my short hiatus. Anyway, last night I took in "Force of Evil", which I still had from Netflix, so let's talk about that, shall we?

"Force of Evil" was directed by Abraham Polonsky and starred John Garfield as Joe Morse. Joe is a big time lawyer, who mainly works off of Wall Street, but we find out right away that Joe isn't just a defender of the law, he's also a breaker of it. The plot revolves around a numbers racket, that's something like the modern day lottery. Every day, in the newspaper, three numbers are posted. The day before, people can lay down bets on what they think the three numbers will be and based on how much they bet, is what they'll win. The numbers are somehow picked based on the random choosing from the track races and it's a big racket, that pulls in a lot of dough. There are places around town that people call banks, and these are the places where you lay your bets and if you win, you go to the bank to collect your earnings. Joe's brother, Leo (Gomez) operates one of the smaller banks. Anyway, Joe and a gangster friend of his are planning to fix the numbers racket so that the number '776' comes in on July 4th. Apparently a lot of people play that particular number on July 4th, due to it's association with the Declaration of Independence and the formation of America. When that number actually hits on July 4th, all of the banks in town are going to go belly up and that's when Joe and gangster Ben Tucker are going to step in and clean-up. Joe tries to warn his brother of the impending catastrophe that will happen at his bank, but Leo plans to run a clean business and doesn't want help from his brother, a known scum. Meanwhile, Joe kindles a romance with Leo's ex-secretary Doris (Pearson).

Yeah, I didn't care for this one that much. I've found that if you're going to give me a heist/racket movie, you need to keep it as simple as possible, focus all of your details into the planning and staging of the heist/racket and certainly don't muck it up with a romance. Take Kubrick's "The Killer" for instance (a movie that was wrongfully excluded from THE BOOK). There's a movie where we don't have to sit through any romance and all we're given is the intricate, gory details of five men and their attempt to knock off a horse track. Simple and awesome. In "Force of Evil", you start out pretty strong, as a voice over narration from Joe informs us that he plans to make his first million bucks on July 4th and then we trace the steps backwards and find out what he's talking about. It starts out pretty interesting - Joe and Ben Tucker plan to somehow rig the numbers racket (which, like I mentioned, just came off as an illegal lottery) and make off with tons of loot. But it got all mucked up with too many unnecessary details, a sibling rivalry, the Joe/Doris stuff and ultimately I honestly couldn't wait for this one to just end. Actually, I had an easier time getting through nearly three hours of "The Thin Red Line", than I did getting through eighty minutes of "Force of Evil". It's not that it was bad or anything, it's just that I think I was expecting a whole lot more and what I got wasn't anything even remotely close to worth writing home about. When you present me with a film noir, my hopes are always going to be a little higher, because they really are my types of movies. I love the mood, the atmosphere and the style, but I also like a certain level of simplicity and that wasn't given to me here. It was just too complicated. Give me "The Big Heat" (cops' family gets killed, he wants revenge), "Detour" (accidental murder) or "The Asphalt Jungle" (group of guys pull of a jewel heist) any 'ol day of the week. They were simple, awesome and so much fun. "Force of Evil"? Not so much.

RATING: 5/10  I'll give it a few notches for the things I mentioned (good style, good mood) and for decent acting & that final scene with Joe descending multiple hills to find his brothers corpse. That was gold, the rest...*meh*.


June 1, 2013  5:17pm


  1. OOOooh.. I REALLY liked this one. Cracking tension, fantastic 'Noir' symbolism (going down, down, down all those steps), all that shadow.
    Also, it was the first time I fully understood 'The Numbers racket'. A uniquely American thing that crops up, mentioned and expected to be understood in SO many films, (and even a Bob Dylan song)
    So sorry, I beg to disagree, but glad you liked some bits.

    1. Yeah, some of it was okay, but ultimately I'd have to call it a loss. Glad you liked it.


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