Force of Evil (1948) is a film noir directed by Abraham Polonsky who had already achieved a name for himself as a scriptwriter, most notably for the gritty boxing film Body and Soul (1947). Like Body and Soul it starred John Garfield. The movie was adapted by Abraham Polonsky and Ira Wolfert from Wolfert's novel Tucker's People.
In 1994, Force of Evil was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
The drama tells of a lawyer, Joe Morse (Garfield), working for a powerful gangster, Tucker, who wishes to consolidate and control the numbers racket in New York. This means assuming control of the many smaller numbers rackets, one of which is run by Morse’s older brother Leo Morse (Thomas Gomez). The plot which unfolds is a terse, melodramatic thriller notable for realist location photography, almost poetic dialogue and frequent biblical allusions (Cain and Abel, Judas’s betrayal, stigmata).
When the film was released, the staff at Variety gave the film a mixed review, writing, "Force of Evil fails to develop the excitement hinted at in the title. Makers apparently couldn't decide on the best way to present an expose of the numbers racket, winding up with neither fish nor fowl as far as hard-hitting racketeer meller is concerned. A poetic, almost allegorical, interpretation keeps intruding on the tougher elements of the plot. This factor adds no distinction and only makes the going tougher...Garfield, as to be expected, comes through with a performance that gets everything out of the material furnished...On the technical side, the production fares better than story-wise. The physical mounting is expertly valued; the New York locale shots give authenticity; and lensing by George Barnes, while a bit on the arty side, displays skilled craftsmanship."
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