Force of Evil (1949)

78 mins | Drama | March 1949

Director:

Abraham Polonsky

Producer:

Bob Roberts

Cinematographer:

George Barnes

Editor:

Arthur Seid

Production Designer:

Richard Day
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HISTORY

The working titles of this film were Tucker's People , The Story of Tucker's People and The Numbers Racket . According to an Aug 1948 DV news item, the PCA objected to the word "racket" in the title and so ruled out the use of The Numbers Racket . The film opens with the offscreen voice of "Joe Morse" speaking over an image of Wall Street. Joe says, "tomorrow, July 4th, I intended to make my first million dollars...temporarily, the enterprise was slighty illegal, you see I was the lawyer for the numbers racket...The suckers bet on any combination of three numbers. Twenty million bettors a day in the United States, an annual income of over $100,000,000...it seemed a shame so much good money to go to waste in other people's pockets..."
       The Var review and CBCS incorrectly list Sheldon Leonard as "Ficco." According to a Jun 1948 news item in the LADN , Dorothy Comingore was slated to appear in the film. A Jun 1948 NYT news item notes that two climactic sequences were to be shot on location in New York City. An Oct 1948 HR news item adds that director Abraham Polonsky and producer Bob Roberts were assembling and editing an alternate beginning to the film to be tested at a series of previews. It has not been determined if the alternate opening was used in the released print, however. According to materials contained in the PCA files in the AMPAS Library, PCA director Joseph I. Breen objected to "the completely anti-social basic theme of this ... More Less

The working titles of this film were Tucker's People , The Story of Tucker's People and The Numbers Racket . According to an Aug 1948 DV news item, the PCA objected to the word "racket" in the title and so ruled out the use of The Numbers Racket . The film opens with the offscreen voice of "Joe Morse" speaking over an image of Wall Street. Joe says, "tomorrow, July 4th, I intended to make my first million dollars...temporarily, the enterprise was slighty illegal, you see I was the lawyer for the numbers racket...The suckers bet on any combination of three numbers. Twenty million bettors a day in the United States, an annual income of over $100,000,000...it seemed a shame so much good money to go to waste in other people's pockets..."
       The Var review and CBCS incorrectly list Sheldon Leonard as "Ficco." According to a Jun 1948 news item in the LADN , Dorothy Comingore was slated to appear in the film. A Jun 1948 NYT news item notes that two climactic sequences were to be shot on location in New York City. An Oct 1948 HR news item adds that director Abraham Polonsky and producer Bob Roberts were assembling and editing an alternate beginning to the film to be tested at a series of previews. It has not been determined if the alternate opening was used in the released print, however. According to materials contained in the PCA files in the AMPAS Library, PCA director Joseph I. Breen objected to "the completely anti-social basic theme of this story, which presents wrong as right and right as wrong, in violation of both the letter and spirit of the Production Code." The Var review criticized the film because its "poetic, almost allegorical interpretation keeps intruding on the tougher elements of the plot." The HR review complained that the direction was "more concerned with plugging the verbose dialogue than in achieving action and dramatic values." Modern critics now praise the film for those same qualities.
       According to a 1953 DV news item, Bank of America foreclosed on Enterprise Productions, Inc., claiming that the company owed them an unpaid sum of $208,000 for the financing of the film and were also in arrears for Body and Soul . For more information about that suit, please see the entry above for Body and Soul .
       Force of Evil marked the screen debut of Beatrice Pearson, and also marked the directorial debut of screenwriter Abraham Polonsky. According to modern sources, Polonsky went to Europe to write a novel after completing the film. Upon returning to Hollywood in 1950, he concluded a deal with Twentieth Century-Fox to direct his next project. In Apr 1951, however, Polonksy was subpoenaed to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and after refusing to affirm or deny membership in the Communist party, he was blacklisted. During the period of the blacklist, Polonsky worked as an uncredited writer for both films and television. In 1968, he received screenplay credit for Madigan , the first time his name appeared onscreen since being blacklisted. Polonsky did not direct another picture until the 1969 film Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here . More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
1 Jan 1949.
---
Daily Variety
27 Aug 1948.
---
Daily Variety
27 Dec 48
p. 3.
Daily Variety
25 Feb 1953.
---
Film Daily
28 Dec 48
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Jun 48
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jul 48
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Oct 48
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Dec 48
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Dec 48
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Dec 48
p. 8.
Los Angeles Daily News
1 Jun 1948.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
4 Dec 48
p. 4410.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
1 Jan 49
p. 4442.
New York Times
20 Jun 1948.
---
New York Times
27 Dec 48
p. 16.
Variety
29 Dec 48
p. 6.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
And introducing
Barbara Woodell
Paul Newlan
Chuck Hamilton
Capt. Fred Somers
Jim Davies
Jimmy Dundee
Bud Fine
Helen Eby-Rock
Bob Stebbins
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Dial dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Op cam
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Ed supv
Film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Ward supv
Hats by
MUSIC
Mus dir
SOUND
Sd eng
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Exec prod mgr
Casting dir
Head grip
Unit mgr
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Tucker's People by Ira Wolfert (New York, 1943).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Tucker's People
The Story of Tucker's People
The Numbers Racket
Release Date:
March 1949
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 25 December 1948
Production Date:
2 June--late July 1948
retakes late November 1948
Copyright Claimant:
Roberts Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
31 January 1949
Copyright Number:
MP3762
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
78
Country:
United States
PCA No:
13413
SYNOPSIS

Joe Morse, an attorney for racketeer Ben Tucker, realizes that thousands of people select the number "776" in the lotteries on Independence day and conceives of a clever scheme to fix that as the winning number on the Fourth of July, thus bankrupting the numerous numbers banks operating in the city and enabling Tucker to gain a stranglehold on the racket. Joe is motivated by Tucker's promise to consolidate the new syndicate under his brother Leo's small-time numbers operation. Knowing that Leo, an intrinsically honest man in a dishonest business, will resist joining the syndicate, Joe goes to visit his brother on the eve of the Fourth at his numbers bank, hidden in a small apartment in the slums. Joe offers his brother a piece of the impending combine, but Leo denounces the proposed alliance with Tucker, then excoriates his brother's lack of principles and reminds him of the sacrifices that he has made to put him through law school. To save his brother from financial ruin, Joe arranges for Leo's bank to be raided that night, thus assuring that it will be closed the next day when 776 hits. After Joe leaves, Leo's young secretary, Doris Lowry, who witnessed Leo's barrage, tearfully informs her boss that her conscience will no longer allow her to work for him. Soon after, the police arrive and arrest everyone on the premises, including Doris, Leo and his meek bookkeeper, Freddy Bauer. Although Leo refuses Joe's help, Joe goes to the jailhouse and pays everyone's fines. When Leo announces that tomorrow will be his last day in business, Joe advises him to close immediately, but Leo insists ... +


Joe Morse, an attorney for racketeer Ben Tucker, realizes that thousands of people select the number "776" in the lotteries on Independence day and conceives of a clever scheme to fix that as the winning number on the Fourth of July, thus bankrupting the numerous numbers banks operating in the city and enabling Tucker to gain a stranglehold on the racket. Joe is motivated by Tucker's promise to consolidate the new syndicate under his brother Leo's small-time numbers operation. Knowing that Leo, an intrinsically honest man in a dishonest business, will resist joining the syndicate, Joe goes to visit his brother on the eve of the Fourth at his numbers bank, hidden in a small apartment in the slums. Joe offers his brother a piece of the impending combine, but Leo denounces the proposed alliance with Tucker, then excoriates his brother's lack of principles and reminds him of the sacrifices that he has made to put him through law school. To save his brother from financial ruin, Joe arranges for Leo's bank to be raided that night, thus assuring that it will be closed the next day when 776 hits. After Joe leaves, Leo's young secretary, Doris Lowry, who witnessed Leo's barrage, tearfully informs her boss that her conscience will no longer allow her to work for him. Soon after, the police arrive and arrest everyone on the premises, including Doris, Leo and his meek bookkeeper, Freddy Bauer. Although Leo refuses Joe's help, Joe goes to the jailhouse and pays everyone's fines. When Leo announces that tomorrow will be his last day in business, Joe advises him to close immediately, but Leo insists on honoring his patron's bets. Feeling responsible for Doris' arrest, Leo asks Joe to escort her home, and along the way, they discuss issues of ambition and guilt. The next day, July 4th, all the numbers banks in the city are thrown into bankruptcy when the number 776 hits. Joe pays another visit to his brother, and now ruined, Leo reluctantly enters into an alliance with Tucker. Encountering Doris in the lobby of Leo's apartment building, Joe justifies his actions by assuring her that his brother really wanted to be forced into the combine. During the first day of reorganization, Tucker's men take control of Leo's operation, and Bauer, terrified, states his intention to quit, but Joe uses implied threats to convince him to stay on. In desperation, Bauer determines to drive Tucker out of business by informing Link Hall, the city's new special prosecutor, of the location of Leo's bank. Later, as Bauer is leaving the office, he is approached by Wally, an emissary from Tucker's business rival, Ficco, who asks him to arrange a meeting between Ficco and Leo. That evening, Joe finds Tucker's flirtatious wife Edna and Doris waiting to see him at his office. After Edna warns Joe that her husband's phone has been tapped, Joe, sensing the law closing in on him, checks his private line to Tucker. Troubled, Joe leaves the office with Doris and confides his fears and self-doubts to her. Following Bauer's tip, the police raid Leo's bank the next day, arresting Bauer, Leo and Doris once again. When Tucker vows war on Ficco, Joe, sensing trouble, asks Tucker to release Leo from the bank and promises to take his place, thus opening himself up to criminal charges. As they await arraignment, Doris, blaming Joe for her arrest, denounces him and warns that he will be responsible for Leo's death. Afterward, Leo refuses Joe's offer to buy him out and discovers that Bauer was his betrayer. That night, Joe returns to his office and finds an intruder there. After the man leaves, Joe extracts a wad of cash from his safe and flees the building. Leo, meanwhile, fearing for Bauer's safety, gives him a ride in his car. When the frightened Leo wanders off by himself, he is accosted by Wally and forced to set up a meeting with Leo. As soon as the unsuspecting Leo enters a café to meet Bauer, Ficco's men rush in, shoot Bauer and kidnap Leo, who then suffers a heart attack. Joe, meanwhile, has finally come to the realization that he has ruined his life. In a restaurant, as Joe drunkenly tells Doris his plans to run away, Doris fights for his salvation. When Joe spots the morning newspaper headlines trumpeting Leo's kidnapping, he runs out of the restaurant. Just as Ficco and Tucker reach an accord at Tucker's apartment, Joe pounds at the door and Tucker informs him that he has gone into business with Ficco. After Ficco coolly declares that Leo is dead and that his body has been dumped under a bridge, Joe, filled with vengeance, surreptiously picks up the receiver of Tucker's tapped phone. When Joe begins to recite a litany of Tucker's crimes for Hall to hear, Tucker realizes what is happening and attacks Joe, extinguishing the lights in the process. In the darkness, all three men nervously finger their pistols. After stalking Tucker, Joe kills him and then turns his gun on Ficco. Then, picking up the phone receiver, Joe declares that he is on his way to police headquarters. First, however, he goes with Doris to find Leo's body under the bridge. As they walk away, Joe voices his determination to join Hall in his battle to end corruption. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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