A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, February 5, 2018

Force of Evil (Abraham Polonsky, 1948)

John Garfield in Force of Evil
Joe Morse: John Garfield
Leo Morse: Thomas Gomez
Doris Lowry: Beatrice Pearson
Freddie Bauer: Howland Chamberlain
Ben Tucker: Roy Roberts
Edna Tucker: Marie Windsor
Bill Ficco: Paul Fix
Detective Egan: Barry Kelley
Hobe Wheelock: Paul McVeigh
Wally: Stanley Prager

Director: Abraham Polonsky
Screenplay: Abraham Polonsky, Ira Wolfert
Based on a novel by Ira Wolfert
Cinematography: George Barnes
Art direction: Richard Day
Film editing: Art Seid
Music: David Raksin

John Garfield was one of the few movie stars who could play leading man to Joan Crawford and Lana Turner, and then turn around and appear in a gritty drama like Force of Evil without letting his star power outshine the supporting cast of character actors and unknowns. In Abraham Polonsky's film, he's a lawyer connected to the big players in the numbers racket, an illegal lottery that flourished before the legal ones took over. Joe Morse is torn in two directions: his work for the gangster Ben Tucker, who wants to take over the numbers game from the smaller "banks" that work in New York City neighborhoods, and his ties to his brother, Leo, who runs one of those banks. The numbers, posted in the daily newspapers, are based on the amount of bets placed on a day's horse races. Theoretically, the trio of numbers -- the last digits in the amount -- should be completely random. But Tucker has discovered a way to rig the numbers so that they'll come up 776 on Independence Day -- a day when a lot of bettors choose that number -- thereby causing a lot of the banks to go bust. When Joe learns of the scheme, he tries to tip off Leo, but his brother is having none of it. Joe also becomes involved with one of Leo's employees, Doris Lowry, who is grateful to Leo for having given her a job when she first came to New York, but now wishes to quit the shady business. Beatrice Pearson, who made her debut in the film but gave up movies for the stage, is a fresh and engaging presence, making the "love interest" feel less obligatory than it might. Garfield, of course, is terrific in one of his best roles, striking the right note of moral corruption while still retaining an essential attractiveness. George Barnes's cinematography is superb, whether he's working with Richard Day's sets or New York City locations. There's a haunting shot of Joe Morse in a deserted Wall Street, and the film's emotional climax is Joe's descent to the river beneath the George Washington Bridge to find where his brother's body has been dumped. Force of Evil is a downer, but a surprising one, and it makes one feel all the more bitter about the damage that the blacklist did to Polonsky and to Garfield, whose persecution by the commie-hunters may have contributed to his early death.

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