Film Length: 87 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Standard (4:3)
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Retail Price: $14.95
Warner Brothers made Humphrey Bogart a star with films such as The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and High Sierra but early in his career Bogart was playing the smaller role in gangster films like The Roaring Twenties and Angels with Dirty Faces 1951’s The Enforcer would mark the end to that type of gangster film from the studio but it started a rather unique and overlooked portion of Bogart’s career. This isn’t your typical gangster film but the story is based on the real life case of a Murder, Inc. gang.
District Attorney Martin Ferguson (Bogart) has spent the last four years of his life trying to bust a gang of hired killers who have left hundreds of bodies lying around. The case was a hard one to crack because there were never any witnesses and none of the murders had a motive. Finally, Joseph Rico agrees to testify against the big man of the operation as long as Ferguson offers him protection. The night before the big trial Rico begins to lose his nerve because there have already been two attempts on his life.
Ferguson finally calms Rico down and gets him back on his side but within minutes Rico tries to escape from the window and falls to his death. With seven hours before court starts Ferguson finds himself without a witness, which means the guy running this deadly operation will be back on the streets very soon. With nothing left to do Ferguson decides to go back over the evidence in hope that a name or something will pop up so he can take a true case to court. We then get various flashbacks to those in the gang and the story, which lead Rico to agree to testify.
The Enforcer is a throwback to the 1930’s with pictures such as the Dick Tracy series but it has a blend of film noir, which makes it worth watching even though the end results aren’t as great as one would hope. This film was one of the last of its type and Bogart is as great as usual playing the tough as nails D.A. who’ll stop at nothing to get the big case solved. The biggest downfall to the film is its screenplay, which introduces many characters but none of them very interesting.
I think the films biggest problem is the way it’s told in a flashback form. The mystery in the film is supposed to be breaking the case but the case is pretty much broken within the first five minutes of the film. The tension then goes to the final seven hours before the court case when the D.A. must find a witness to put on the stand but this here doesn’t work because the majority of the characters aren’t too interesting and they certainly don’t bring any extra life to the movie. Most of them just point fingers at other men and then those men point more fingers until the end when we are pretty much at the start of the film. Out of nowhere Bogart discovers the missing key to the case, which is a very good moment and leads to a tense ending. It’s just too bad the rest of the stories weren’t as interesting.
Bogart is very good in the role, although this is the type of character he could play while sleeping. Bogart really doesn’t bring anything new to the table but even the old Bogart is great enough to keep the interest level high. By the old Bogart I’m talking about the guy who’ll slap around anyone to get the information he wants and we get plenty of that here including a wonderful scene inside an insane asylum where Bogart has to crack a witness. This toughness is what made Bogart a legend and he uses this throughout the film. The rest of the players are pretty much cliché stuff and don’t deserve to stand next to Bogart.
Where the film does work is its brilliant opening and closing. The opening, in the dark streets, is wonderfully shot and the director is able to get some wonderful tension out of the scene. The opening lasts around fifteen minutes and while we know something bad is going to happen the director is able to build the suspense by carrying everything out. The ending has a nice surprise twist that will catch most people off guard and then it’s a chase between Bogart to get to the witness before the hired killers do. Had the beginning of the film had just a portion of the suspense like the opening and closing then I’m sure The Enforcer would have been better remembered today. As it stand, the film is nothing great but there’s enough good stuff to make it highly recommended.
VIDEO---The movie is shown standard (4:3), which is the correct ratio. The picture quality is decent but don’t expect any quality like you’d get from Warner or Fox. The print is in pretty good shape with some minor speckles but the blacks are pretty solid except for a few scenes, which appear a bit too soft. A few of the early scenes for some reason seem to be shimmering but this only lasts around twenty seconds then everything goes back to normal. If this was a VHS tape you’d be happy with the quality but since this is DVD we’ve come to expect a lot more.
AUDIO---The sound is Dolby Digital Mono and for the most part it sounds pretty good. The dialogue is upfront and crystal clear and there’s only some minor hiss at the start of the film. The final twenty minutes however the hiss becomes a lot louder but it’s certainly not as bad as Artisan’s The Men disc.
EXTRAS---The films original theatrical trailer is included and it’s strange to see a “warning” from Republic saying the film wasn’t remastered. I’m curious why they didn’t bother putting this before the film.
OVERALL---This is a rather fun if predictable film that’s main highlight is the tough guy performance from Bogart. The picture quality is decent for LD days but with DVD I think we’ve all come to expect a lot more. The package said the film was digitally remastered but I’m guessing this was done for the LD and not the DVD. This type of release is why I wish Warner owned every classic film.
Release Date: December 16, 2003