sun 18/08/2019

Blu-ray: Force of Evil | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Force of Evil

Blu-ray: Force of Evil

Abraham Polonsky’s 1948 film noir assaults the American Dream

Joe Morse (John Garfield) and Doris Lowry (Beatrice Pearson)

Force of Evil is much more than a stunning film noir classic: it’s first and foremost a film about money and power and their tragic power of attraction. Set in the world of the numbers racket in New York, where the big combinations, created by gangsters who've barely gone legit, are pitted against the smaller "banks", or players. This Hobbesian struggle feeds off the lesser but still significant desire of the betting man on the street, driven by hopeless dreams and always close to the breadline.

The story, based on a novel by Ira Wolfert, and adapted by Polonsky himself for his first film as a director, pits two brothers Leo and Joe Morse against each other in classic tragic style: Leo is a small-time numbers "banker", his younger brother Joe an attorney trying to get rich in the moral and strategic territory between the smooth but ruthless gangster Bob Tucker, and the invisible forces of so-called rectitude at City Hall. The actor John Garfield, as Joe, himself an escapee from the mean streets, was a precursor of Actors’ Studio Method acting, and you can already see the cool but psychologically convincing style that Marlon Brando, James Dean, Harvey Keitel and Robert de Niro will display in films that followed.

It's no wonder that Martin Scorsese felt this film was an under-rated masterpiece

His performance is riveting, commanding the screen whenever he appears. His relationship with his potential saviour, the innocently beautiful Doris Lowry (Beatrice Pearson) runs through the film, providing a way into the turmoil of Joe Morse’s splintered soul. The tense unfolding of the various relationships in the film is underlined through endlessly surprising use of low-angle two shots, close-ups and sizzling dialogue, that succeeds in evoking mythic dimensions and psychological depth without ever feeling anything less than natural.

The camerawork is as dramatic as it gets, the editing perfectly paced. The film is as much about inner personal drama, about survival instincts, the will to power, the temptation of evil and the near-absence of moral imperatives. It's no wonder that Martin Scorsese felt this film was an under-rated masterpiece: so many of the themes that run through his own work are present here, exposed without a shade of didacticism and with a great deal of savage poetry. In a brief statement on the film that is one of the extras on this release, the director of Taxi Driver, the Scorsese film most inspired by Force of Evil, explains why he feels the film is so important.

The film wasn’t a favourite with the hypocritical moral guardians of “American values”. Polonsky had been a Communist Party member in the 1930s, and refused to denounce colleagues in front of McCarthy’s HUAC (another extra here is the fascinating 1947 radio play Hollywood Fights Back, in which 35 Hollywood stars protest the blacklist). As an indictment of the way in which the American Dream has been hijacked by the forces of capitalism and the greed and lust for power that drives the machine, Force of Evil could not be a more timely film to re-release. It speaks as clearly of America’s ever-present shadow-world, and for this reason is essential  and very enjoyable  viewing.


As an indictment of the way in which the American Dream has been hijacked by the forces of capitalism, 'Force of Evil' could not be a more timely film to re-release


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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