Force of Evil

Force of Evil

Lawyers are not protected from the law.

I could go for a good film noir right about now. Good thing Force of Evil came up, since it fits the ticket almost exactly. Directed by Abraham Polonsky, in what the Book touts as one of his few worthwhile directorial efforts before his career was snuffed out by the Hollywood Blacklist, this is as typical a noir as I think a film can get. It’s not absolutely drowning in it like some other films on the list, but rather this toes the line right down the middle of the road, and is happy to do so. Thankfully, there was plenty with this one that was firing on all cylinders that clearly made up whatever difference there may have been.

Contrary to the films I’ve watched as of late, this one had a lot of plot, so I’ll try to be succinct. Joe Morse is a lawyer in New York City, when actually he helps run the illegal numbers racket, a progenitor to the lottery. Indeed, Joe’s boss wants to consolidate all the different rackets into one and make it a legal lottery, despite the fact that Joe’s older brother Leo, who suffers from a heart condition, runs one of the smaller ones himself. Joe thus plays both sides, trying to help his older brother and fulfill the wants of his boss, all while finding himself falling for Leo’s demure ingénue of a secretary, Doris. Noirs seem to come and go in the 1940s, but Force of Evil stands out for several reasons. For one, this film seemed incredibly proud of its script, so much so that it has the actors spit their dialogue out in such a rapid-fire fashion that you’d all too easily miss an entire line if your ears could blink. A little bit of looking around got me to a review that made the observation that all of the dialogue was written in iambic pentameter, which pretty much blows me away and elevates the film to the levels of poetry. It wouldn’t be half of what it is without the actors and their delivery, particularly John Garfield in the lead role, as well as Thomas Gomez as his brother Leo. I was also especially thankful that this purported film noir was actually a pretty standard noir, even despite the fact that it either didn’t have or deliberately ignored many of the regular noir tropes. There was particular use of light and shadow to shape the scenery and the characters, and the main character, even with being a lawyer, was as hard-boiled as you can get. There isn’t a traditional femme fatale (or rather, the one the film has is only hinted at and plays a minor role), and really the only significant female part is the innocent waif. Still, even though this tried at times to be different, it was far too reverential of the noir genre to escape becoming one itself; all the better, though, as the film works very well with what it has.

This is another one that I really liked, but still found myself questioning whether it was really enough to make the list. Even if I had decided to make a go of watching a bunch of classic films that wasn’t the list, I have a feeling I’d have found myself at Force of Evil’s doorstep at some point either way. Still, I won’t complain; this reminded me a lot of The Big Sleep, and any film that draws numerous comparisons to that film can only be a winner for me. Check this out if you’re looking for a good noir to settle down and consume; it won’t be your favorite meal, but you’ll walk away feeling satisfied.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

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