Directed by Abraham Polonsky (who would eventually fall victim to Hollywood blacklisting) who co-wrote this film in 1948 with Ira Wolfert, Force Of Evil stars John Garfield as a lawyer named Joe Morse who makes a pretty good living for himself defending some mob clients. Eventually Joe figures he can get in on some of this action with a numbers racket consolidation plan he talks client Ben Tucker (Roy Roberts) into taking on, one that will allow them to rake it in when they competing racketeers go belly up, and one that the pair hope will allow them to legitimize their business. Where things get tricky for the pair is when Joe's own brother, Leo (Thomas Gomez), comes into the picture. Leo is a successful banker who has a numbers racket of his own going, and Joe, being loyal to his family, doesn't want to see his brother go down with the rest of the competing gangsters involved in the business.
As Joe and Ben move forward with their big plan, Leo somewhat begrudgingly goes along with his little brother's ideas but none of this is going to be easy. The district attorney they'd banked on bending over on the law has instead opted to prosecute, while Leo is unsure about Joe's relationship with his beautiful secretary, Doris Lowry (Beatrice Pearson), and how it will affect their business relationship. On top of that, there's the not so insignificant matter of the rival gangsters caught up in all of this, none of whom are pleased, all while Ben's wife, Edna (Marie Windsor), seems to have an unusual interest in her husband's attorney.
Set in a bleak but realistic world where everything comes at a price, Force Of Evil is a gripping tale of someone with fairly decent intentions getting in over his head. John Garfield plays his character pretty much flawlessly here, throwing himself completely into the role and erasing pretty much any hint of 'acting' - you will believe him in every aspect of the part, from the romantic side to the dangerous side to the frustrated side to the tense side. The rest of the cast are strong here as well, with Beatrice Parson doing a fine job as the only somewhat innocent character in the movie and Marie Windsor vamping it up as the requisite femme fatale. Roberts is very strong in his role as the lynchpin in Morse's plan and Gomez is just as good as the increasingly frustrated older brother. This is, when the dust settles however, Garfield's show, you really can't forget him in this film.
Additionally, the storyline is pretty clever. It gives us enough character development that we're able to easily decide on our own who we like and who we don't like but also provides enough suspense and interesting twists to keep this interesting. There are some left leaning politics that work their way into the movie, which isn't surprising given the director's background (he was a Marxist and a member of the Communist Party) but they don't feel crammed into the movie at all, rather, they fit the story pretty naturally.
The film is also a pretty raging success on a visual level, the cinematography (courtesy of director of photography George Barnes, probably best known for his work on Hitchcock's Rebecca) on display throughout the film is outstanding. With most of the exterior locations shot on the actual streets of New York City, we get some nice 'time capsule' footage of the New York that doesn't really exist anymore, but also the interior shots are often times just as interesting. There's fantastic use of shadow and light throughout the entire picture, which only serves to further enhance the already distraught mood that the cast and crew were obviously striving for. Looking back on the picture, it's easy to see why it was chosen for placement in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, and Force Of Evil easily stands the test of time as a superb, if remarkably grim, story of crime and punishment.
Force Of Evil looks excellent on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.37.1. The image is nice and bright without looking artificially boosted and it shows very strong depth and detail throughout the duration of the movie. There's a nice amount of natural looking film grain present that results in a very film like presentation without the picture ever looking deteriorated or dirty because of it. Texture is excellent and black levels are strong, with very nice shadow detail making the beautiful photography really stand out here and giving the movie extra dramatic weight because of it.
The only audio option on the disc is a DTS-HD Mono track in the film's original English language, no alternate language or subtitle options or offered. The audio is clean and clear and easy to follow, the dialogue easily discernible and the score dramatically strong without overpowering anything. There are no issues here with hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced throughout the movie. Range is obviously limited by the age and format of the source material but the movie sounds just fine here.
Olive Films doesn't usually include any extras on their releases but this one does include, aside from a static menu and chapter selection, a brief three minute introduction to the film from Martin Scorsese in which he expresses his admiration of the film and talks about how he first discovered it, introduced some friends to it, and was influenced by it when making his own pictures.
Force Of Evil is wonderfully acted, very tightly scripted and slickly shot, making for a smart thriller that represents so much of what so many love about noir films of this era. The picture is tense, exciting, dramatic and this Blu-ray from Olive Films presents it in wonderful condition which makes it easier to appreciate than ever before. Despite the fact that the extras are slim, the presentation is otherwise good enough and the film as well that this release comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.