Force of Evil (1948)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Film Noir, Crime Drama  |   Run Time - 80 min.  |   Countries - USA  |  
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Force of Evil helped define many of the elements of the post-war film noir. The film has developed a strong cult following as much for its influential stylistic touches (such as using shades of black, white, and gray to play on themes of good, evil, and the shades in-between) as for its gorgeously shaded cinematography, adapted from 1920s German Expressionist films. John Garfield's portrayal of a corrupt mob lawyer, with its combination of weariness, idealism, and greed, would come to define the noir hero. As became common in noir films, characters often behave contrary to their better judgment because they feel trapped by forces beyond their control or are torn by multiple loyalties. Beatrice Pearson turns in the prototypical performance of a good girl attracted to the wrong guy for the wrong reasons. Garfield's clean-living banker brother is played elegantly by Thomas Gomez, and the conflict between the two provides the film's moral battlefield. Director and co-screenwriter Abraham Polonsky, whose fingerprints are all over the poetic and brooding script, would be blacklisted after the release of this film: it uses illicit numbers running as a metaphor for unethical business practices in post-war America, and some people weren't too pleased with Polonsky's "subversive" politics. He would not work for the studios again for twenty years. Despite his potent and rounded performance, the film nearly derailed Garfield's career as well. While few people may have heard of it, Force of Evil is a seminal work in film noir despite its overt political message, unusual for a work in this genre. Martin Scorsese, for one, has cited the film as an early influence on his own sensibility.