Thursday, November 14, 2019
Noir Watch: Force of Evil (1948)
Format: Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
I recalled liking Force of Evil (1948) the last time I watched in 2011, and it's hilarious to read my write-up from what I'd argue was pretty early in my dive into noir (were we ever so young, Leaguers?). Apparently this was also my first John Garfield movie, and it's a heck of an introduction to the guy, but I knew Marie Windsor and was thrilled to see her appear (as one should always be excited to see Windsor).
But, dang, was I happy to see I was appreciative of the film back then, because rewatching it now, I was stunned by what a remarkable film this is, was and shall be, and am shocked - watching it now - that it doesn't have a deeper fanbase. Hell, you can't buy this on BluRay in Region 1, as near as I can tell.
The movie features a rock solid set-up about a former hoodlum gangster taking his organization to the next level as a combination with an eye towards going legit by getting the numbers racket legalized. The real brains behind the operation is a lawyer played by Garfield, whose brother is running a smalltime numbers operation the gangster wants to absorb. His brother doesn't want to mix with gangsters (he and Garfield don't speak anymore), and he doesn't agree to come in despite Garfield's offer and warnings.
The story delves into the compromise, corruption and desperation that comes with naked pursuit of wealth. It doesn't matter how smart you are if you're compromising and working with someone who will kill you to put more money in his pocket.
What's mind-boggling is that this is Abraham Polonsky's debut as a director, and he'd barely worked in Hollywood at all before this movie. Maybe because he was working from his own notes rather than the tools of the trade, the movie's dialog feels novelistic, maybe unnatural in the mouth of an actual person, but the stylized language feels no less artificial than most scripts (if less concise) while having the benefit of expressing complex notions for our characters.
Muller stated before the film that the DP, powerhouse George Barnes (Rebecca, War of the Worlds), studied Edward Hopper paintings prior to shooting, seeking a way to demonstrate the emptiness of the urban landscape. But he also creates the best pre-Godfather sequence of an assassination in a film late in the movie as a character is gunned down in a restaurant.
Like I said, I remembered really liking the movie, but, dang, this one is even better on review and I'm sorry I took so long between viewings. And not just because Marie Windsor can really wear a pair of opera gloves (she's all over the poster, but, honestly, she shows up for a total of 7 or 8 minutes of the movies, leaving the romantic part to cute-as-a-button actress Beatrice Pearson).
It likely will not be a decade between viewings on this one again.