Force of Evil

Force of Evil is a 1948 American crime film noir directed by Abraham Polonsky, who was previously known as a screenwriter for the boxing film Body and Soul (1947). Like Body and Soul, the film starred John Garfield. The film was adapted by Abraham Polonsky and Ira Wolfert from Wolfert's novel Tucker's People.[2] The film marked the first on screen acting role of Beau Bridges, who was 7 years old at the time of the film's release.[3]

Force of Evil
Force of Evil (1948 poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAbraham Polonsky
Screenplay byAbraham Polonsky
Ira Wolfert
Based onTucker's People
1943 novel
by Ira Wolfert
Produced byBob Roberts
StarringJohn Garfield
Thomas Gomez
Marie Windsor
CinematographyGeorge Barnes
Edited byArt Seid
Music byDavid Raksin
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • December 25, 1948 (1948-12-25) (United States)
Running time
78 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,165,000[1]

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".[4][5]


John Garfield and Beatrice Pearson in Force of Evil

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 brothers are both tainted by the underworld and neither are free from corruption; the terse, melodramatic thriller incorporates realist location photography, almost poetic dialogue and frequent biblical allusions (Cain and Abel, Judas's betrayal, stigmata).



Critical response and box-officeEdit

Polonsky, along with Chaplin and Losey remains one of the great casualties of the anti-Communist hysteria of the fifties. Force of Evil stands up under repeated viewings as one of the great films of the modern American cinema and Garfield's taxicab scene with Beatrice Pearson takes away some of the luster Kazan's Brando-Steiger tour de force in On the Waterfront.

– Film historian Andrew Sarris (1968)[6]

When the film was released, the staff at Variety magazine gave the film a mixed review:

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 exposé 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.[7]

Bosley Crowther, the film critic for The New York Times, liked the film, and wrote, "But for all its unpleasant nature, it must be said that this film is a dynamic crime-and-punishment drama, brilliantly and broadly realized. Out of material and ideas that have been worked over time after time, so that they've long since become stale and hackneyed, it gathers suspense and dread, a genuine feeling of the bleakness of crime and a terrible sense of doom. And it catches in eloquent tatters of on-the-wing dialogue moving intimations of the pathos of hopeful lives gone wrong."[8]

According to MGM records the film earned $948,000 in the US and $217,000 overseas.[1]

In the decades since its release, Force of Evil has been recognized as a masterpiece of the film noir genre, powerful in its poetic images and language, by film critics and historians such as William S. Pechter and Andrew Dickos. Its influence has been acknowledged many times by Martin Scorsese in the making of his crime dramas.


American Film Institute Lists


  1. ^ a b The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. ^ Force of Evil at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  3. ^ Beau Bridges at IMDb.
  4. ^ "25 Films Added to National Registry". The New York Times. 1994-11-15. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-10-02.
  5. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-10-02.
  6. ^ Sarris, Andrew. 1968. The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968. E.P. Dutton & Co. New York. p. 220
  7. ^ Variety. Staff film review, December 25, 1948. Accessed: February 11, 2010."
  8. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, December 27, 1948. Accessed: February 11, 2010.
  9. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees
  10. ^ AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
  11. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Nominees

External linksEdit