Abraham Polansky and Ira Wolfert (writers), Abraham Polansky (director) Force of Evil / 1948
During a weekend I was to have been in New York—a trip cancelled because of heavy snow—I watched Abraham Polansky’s acclaimed film of 1948, Force of Evil. Unlike Andrew Sarris and some British critics, I do not feel that this film is one of the “great films of the modern American cinema.” But the movie does have a powerful film-noir quality and a brilliant performance by John Garfield which nearly matches his work in Body and Soul (which Polansky also wrote) and Marlon Brando’s edgy and touching portrayal of Terry Malloy in Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront. I guess I’m reminded of Kazan’s film because each of these movies has as a subtheme: the corruption of one brother by another. But as opposed to On the Waterfront’s betrayal of a younger, more sensitive brother by the older sibling (portrayed by Rod Steiger), Force of Evil—in a more complex twist of events—concerns itself with a younger brother who, engaged in a high echelon of a gangster world, attempts to protect his elder brother, a petty crook who runs a small-time numbers business out of a private apartment.
People can be made to talk. Who was my phone talking to?
A man can spend the rest of his life trying to remember what
Or, as Leo later says: “I’m a man with heart trouble. I die every day. It’s a stupid way to live.” In such a world Leo’s murder is inevitable; all the brother has done to protect him has only assured that he will be tossed upon the pollution-ridden river bank like “a piece of meat.”
In a world where everyone is listening in to the most private of conversations, Joe is forced to open his own locked away telephone to the voices of the mobsters as they spin, like spiders, new plots to enmesh anyone who is willing to see their own petty crimes as “not so bad.” As Leo, shortly before his death, comes to realize, even the pettiest of criminal acts permit the most perverse atrocities.