REVIEW: Force of Evil

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Walter Kittel, May 16, 2004.

  1. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Producer

    Dec 28, 1998
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    Force of Evil

    “I didn't have enough strength to resist corruption, but I was strong enough to fight for a piece of it.” - Joe Morse.

    Original Studio: MGM
    Year: 1948
    DVD Release by: Republic Home Video / Artisan / Lion's Gate
    Film Length: 78 min.
    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 (Original Theatrical Ratio)
    Audio: DD 2.0
    Color / B&W: B&W
    Languages: English
    Subtitles: None
    Packaging: Alpha
    Release Date: 5/11/04

    The Film

    The gangster films of the '30s that dealt with individual criminal activity evolved after World War II into films that dealt with the actions of organized crime. Crime as a means of doing business. Force of Evil is director Abraham Polansky's indictment of capitalism as a corrupting force. Most noirs focus upon the weaknesses of their protagonist and approach their storylines from the standpoint of human frailty. In Force of Evil, Polansky posits the system as a corrupting force that ruins the lives of innocent individuals. The system's focus upon numbers, upon the bottom line, dehumanizes and corrupts those involved in its affairs.

    The film deals with the efforts of crime boss Ben Tucker (Roy Roberts) and his attorney Joe Morse (John Garfield) to consolidate the numbers racket in New York City into 'the combine' by fixing the number for July 4th to bankrupt the numbers 'banks'. Complicating matters for Joe Morse are the fact that his older brother Leo (Thomas Gomez – in an outstanding, humanistic performance) runs one of the smaller banks and will be wiped out. Joe repeatedly attempts to assist his older brother but finds his efforts are unwelcome due to Leo's reservations over his and his younger brother's actions. Further complications arise when Joe becomes attracted to Leo's secretary Doris (Beatrice Pearson – who looks quite lovely, by the way) and questions his own course of action.


    Presented in its OAR of 1.33:1 in black and white, the DVD offers up a nice, solid transfer. Edge enhancement was not apparent. The film has a crisp look for the most part due to the high contrast of some of the imagery. Blacks are solid and deep (with the exception of one scene near the end of the film that displays some noise and grain.) Print flaws occur intermittently throughout the film but are always minor and very brief in duration (always less than 1 second) and consequently were not egregious to this viewer.

    The stock footage at the race track looks kind of rough, but these scenes are momentary and do not detract in any meaningful way from the overall film experience, which is quite nice. The credits display some 'wobble' when viewed on a larger screen. Revisiting the title on a 27 inch set minimized this effect; viewers with smaller sets will probably not notice this nearly as much as FP users.

    The real relevation regarding the transfer was when I compared the new DVD release to my old Republic CLV Laserdisc. I had not viewed the Laserdisc in a year or so, so I was shocked to see the number and continual presence of print flaws in terms of speckling on the Laserdisc release. The DVD looks astonishingly better. I do not know if a better print was found, or if the film received a digital cleanup, but the difference between the two releases is like night and day. (There was nothing on the disc to indicate authorship of the disc other than the Artisan logo.)


    Given that this is a dialog driven film I found the soundtrack to be acceptable. Dialog is always clear at comfortable listening levels. There is some hiss present, which seems to vary some throughout the feature. But is always in the background and never becomes intrusive. Music suffers a little more, especially during the final chapter when the louder passages seem shrill and discordant. Despite those problems, the soundtrack does present the dialog in an intelligible fashion, so I'm willing to cut the soundtrack of a 56 year old film some slack.


    Nothing. This DVD is about as barebones as it can get. The DVD is offered in an Alpha case with an insert advertising a contest with Artisan. There are fifteen chapter stops on the disc. By the way, the pictures on the screen associated with chapters 14 and 15, from the scene selection menu, are reversed. Chapter 14's photo belongs to chapter 15 and vice versa.

    Final Thoughts

    Not having viewed this film in some time, I had forgotten how well this feature was shot by George Barnes. There are some great compositions on display in this film that use symmetry, balance, and perspective to great effect. Use of lighting is strong throughout the film, especially in a sequence when Morse finds someone in his office while visiting at night. (Fans of the film know the scene to which I am referring, I'm sure.)

    The strength of the dialog was another aspect of the film with which I had lost touch, in terms of its flow and pace. Force of Evil has been described as poetic, and the dialog makes that an apt observation.

    From the rear cover:

    “Force of Evil has been a major influence on my work... particularly on Mean Streets, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas” - Martin Scorsese

    Force of Evil anticipates such films as The Godfather – with its themes of crime as business, and Raging Bull with its filial relationship at the heart of the film.

    Fans of noir and crime films, or '40s cinema will likely enjoy this feature. For my money, the film is one of the classics of noir and is a must have for any serious enthusiast of noir. The DVD is bare, but given the low price and a solid presentation it is an easy recommendation. I admire this film greatly and hope that others discover and enjoy this film as much as I have.

    Review Equipment:
    Epson PowerLite Home 10 LCD FP
    106” DaLite 16x9 screen ( effective size of 1.33:1 is 69” x 52” )
    DVD Player: Denon DVD-2200

    - Walter.
  2. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

    May 7, 2001
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    EXCELLENT - Great news.

    Mine is in "shipping"... so I hope to have it in the next couple of days.

    Thanks Walter!

  3. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Producer

    Dec 28, 1998
    Likes Received:
    Herb - I've always enjoyed your reviews ( does the format at the top look familiar? [​IMG] ) and it is nice to return the favor once. I'm sure you will enjoy the release.

    - Walter.
  4. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator

    Dec 9, 1998
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    Real Name:
    Thanks for the review, I haven't found the time to look at my copy yet. Hopefully, I'll be able to find some time this week for a viewing of it.

  5. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

    Apr 15, 2002
    Likes Received:
    sounds like a good timetobuy this before the Scorsese films arrive on dvd


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