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Film / Force of Evil

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"I didn't have enough strength to resist corruption, but I was strong enough to fight for a piece of it."

Force of Evil is a 1948 film directed by Abraham Polonsky, starring John Garfield.

Joe Morse (Garfield) is a lawyer for New York mobsters, specifically hoodlums running a numbers racket (basically, an illegal lottery). He's long since crossed into criminal territory, helping his mobster boss Ben Tucker launder money from the numbers. Tucker wishes to consolidate control of all the very lucrative small numbers rackets in the city, and deputizes Joe to carry it out. The situation becomes more complicated for Joe when he finds out that one of those numbers rackets is run by his older brother, Leo.

Both Polonsky and Garfield would fall victim to The Hollywood Blacklist. Polonsky wouldn't get to direct another film until 1969, although he got screenwriting work under pseudonyms. Garfield was still being hounded by HUAC when he suddenly died of a heart attack in 1952 at the age of 39.



  • As You Know: Some of this in the early going between Joe and his partner Hobe to establish that Link Hall is the prosecutor trying to take down the numbers racket, that Joe's client is Ben Tucker the mob boss, and that Tucker wants Joe's help in legalizing the numbers racket as a lottery.
  • Cain and Abel: A brotherly rivalry that turns dark and violent. This theme is further underlined by Biblical allusions throughout the movie. The real reason that Leo won't join Tucker's racket is that he hates his younger brother for becoming richer and more successful than him. After Joe bails Leo out (Leo getting arrested in the first place because Joe called the cops on his racket) Leo says "all that Cain did to Abel was murder him."
  • Capitalism Is Bad: The basic message of the film, with its more corporatized take on gangsters and crime activity. The "numbers racket" is described in terms similar to the stock market, and its analogized to gambling. The various numbers rackets are called "banks". Joe's office is on Wall Street, right next to the New York Stock Exchange. People turn to crime to chase the American Dream, and for the sake of money family, brotherhood, and other bonds are cast on the wayside.
    Bauer: I don't want to have anything to do with gangsters.
    Gangster: What do you mean, "gangsters"? It's business.
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  • Chiaroscuro: The lighting gets more dark and shadowy as the mood of the film grows darker.
  • The Consigliere: Joe has become this for Tucker the mob boss. His partner Hobe warns him about how this is a bad idea which could get Joe into a lot of trouble.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Leo, of course, is running an illegal numbers racket for a profit. But he reacts indignantly when Joe tells him he has to merge with Tucker or get wiped out, saying "I'm an honest man, not a gangster like Tucker!"
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Joe, when he enters his apartment at night when all the lights are out, only to find one beam of light coming out of a cracked-open doorway. It's a cop, searching his office.
  • Film Noir: One of the iconic examples, filled with typical Film Noir themes like gangsters, violence, and family betrayal. Polonsky based the cinematography on Edward Hopper paintings.
  • Fixing the Game: Unsurprisingly, the mobsters fix the numbers racket. Joe and Tucker have a scam that will ensure 776 hits the next day and ruins all the little numbers rackets, including his brother's, allowing Tucker to take over.
  • The Ghost: Hall, the crusading prosecutor looking to take down the rackets, is never seen.
  • Just a Gangster: Leo is small-time on the market, doing a more traditional numbers racket while his younger brother Joe has moved up higher and becoming quasi-legitimate. Both of them resent each other, with one seeing the other as a Sell-Out, the other as a hypocrite.
  • The Mole: Bauer starts informing to the cops after Tucker's goons won't let him quit.
  • Narrator: Joe narrates the film in typical hard-bitten Film Noir style.
  • Oh, Crap!: Joe when the click on the phone reveals that his phone is in fact tapped.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: Bauer, Leo's accountant, is told this in no uncertain terms when he attempts to quit after Tucker takes over Leo's racket.


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