Robert Polonsky's Force of Evil (1948)
by Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards
Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir
FORCE OF EVIL shows us that small-time graft is less dangerous than big-time rackets that have the law, the trust of the public, and the appearance of respectability on their side. Ultimately, the crime is the system itself, and the very philosophical underpinnings of capitalism are liable. And while Abraham Polonsky's courage in addressing these themes is remarkable, the degree of craft he exhibits as a rookie director is nothing short of astonishing. With Ira Wolfert, he co-authors a script so rich in its ability to expose the poverty of our dreams, and so stylized and impossibly catchy in its dialogue, that it can't help but feel more real than the real. With this script, and uncommon directing talent, Polonsky coaxes career-best performance from John Garfield, Thomas Gomez, and Marie Windsor. And with Director of Photography George Barnes, Polonsky frames some of the most beautiful and narratively rich shots in film history. FORCE OF EVIL may be the noir that most perfectly captures the ambivalent and fearful relationship Americans had to the great cities and great institutions that were the sclerotic backbone of the country after WWII.
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