The Enforcer (1951)

86 or 88 mins | Drama | 24 February 1951

Director:

Bretaigne Windust

Writer:

Martin Rackin

Producer:

Milton Sperling

Cinematographer:

Robert Burks

Editor:

Fred Allen

Production Designer:

Charles H. Clarke

Production Company:

United States Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

An early working title of the film was Murder, Inc . Although it is not mentioned in the film, some contemporary reviews state that The Enforcer is based on the exploits of Murder, Incorporated, the Brooklyn-based enforcement arm of a national crime syndicate that began in the 1930s. The selling point of Murder, Inc. was that a killer could be brought in from another town, kill a victim whom he would not know, and disappear, leaving the police without a motive or suspect. Under the rules, Murder, Inc. could only be used for mob business and was never to be used against politicians, reporters or prosecutors. As depicted in the film, it was Murder, Inc. that introduced the terms "contract" for killing and "hit" for the intended target. Murder, Inc. came under attack in the early 1940s when several minor members were arrested on suspicion of various murders. Abe Reles, higher up in the organization, decided to cut a deal and talk, but before he could testify, he fell, jumped or was pushed from the window of a hotel in which he was supposed to be under police protection.
       According to a Nov 1949 LADN article, producer Milton Sperling stated that the picture would "name names" and feature ex-employees of Murder, Inc. in minor parts. The article also reports that John Higgins was assigned to write the screenplay with Martin Rackin, and that Felix Feist was signed to direct. The extent of Higgins' contribution to the final film has not been determined. Contemporary reviews note that the film began with a foreword spoken by Senator Estes Kefauver, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee ... More Less

An early working title of the film was Murder, Inc . Although it is not mentioned in the film, some contemporary reviews state that The Enforcer is based on the exploits of Murder, Incorporated, the Brooklyn-based enforcement arm of a national crime syndicate that began in the 1930s. The selling point of Murder, Inc. was that a killer could be brought in from another town, kill a victim whom he would not know, and disappear, leaving the police without a motive or suspect. Under the rules, Murder, Inc. could only be used for mob business and was never to be used against politicians, reporters or prosecutors. As depicted in the film, it was Murder, Inc. that introduced the terms "contract" for killing and "hit" for the intended target. Murder, Inc. came under attack in the early 1940s when several minor members were arrested on suspicion of various murders. Abe Reles, higher up in the organization, decided to cut a deal and talk, but before he could testify, he fell, jumped or was pushed from the window of a hotel in which he was supposed to be under police protection.
       According to a Nov 1949 LADN article, producer Milton Sperling stated that the picture would "name names" and feature ex-employees of Murder, Inc. in minor parts. The article also reports that John Higgins was assigned to write the screenplay with Martin Rackin, and that Felix Feist was signed to direct. The extent of Higgins' contribution to the final film has not been determined. Contemporary reviews note that the film began with a foreword spoken by Senator Estes Kefauver, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee to Investigate Organized Crime. This foreword was not in the viewed print, but an excerpt taken from a 21 Jan 1951 NYT article includes the following: "We Americans are proud of our record of law enforcement in most localities in the United States...The picture you are about to see deals with an assault upon society by one of the worst criminal elements in history...While these men killed and murdered for pay, they, like their predecessors, and they, like the ones who will come after them, were finally apprehended and completely destroyed. And they were destroyed legally, by relentless investigation, by the accumulation of direct evidence and vigorous prosecution. And this was done without denying them any of the rights that American citizens are guaranteed. This is how democracy has always met the enemy and this is how we shall always win." For more information about Kefauver's investigation, see the entry below for The Kefauver Crime Investigation .
       An article in Cue states that director Bretaigne Windust used several attorneys who had prosecuted gangsters in the 1930s as technical advisors on the film. The Enforcer marked the first feature film appearance of actor Lawrence Tolan, who changed his name to Michael Tolan in 1952. The picture also marked Humphrey Bogart's last appearance in a Warner Bros. release. According to a 9 Mar 1951 HR news item, retired New Jersey police officer Herman Cantor filed suit against Warner Bros. and United States Pictures to recover a fee he claimed was due him for providing "the formula, the plot and the central dramatic core" of the film. The outcome of the lawsuit has not been determined.
       Another film on the subject is the 1960 Twentieth Century-Fox production, Murder, Inc. , which was directed by Burt Balaban and Stuart Rosenberg, and based on the book co-written by the prosecuting attorney for the Murder, Inc. crime syndicate case, Burton Turkus, and Sid Feder (See Entry). More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
27 Jan 1951.
---
Cue
2 Dec 50
pp. 16-17.
Daily Variety
23 Jan 51
p. 3.
Film Daily
24 Jan 51
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Nov 1949.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jul 50
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Sep 50
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jan 51
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Mar 51
p. 15.
Los Angeles Daily News
11 Nov 1949.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
27 Jan 51
p. 689.
New York Times
21 Jan 1951.
---
New York Times
26 Jan 51
p. 19.
Newsweek
5 Feb 1951.
---
Variety
24 Jan 51
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
SOUND
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Murder, Inc.
Release Date:
24 February 1951
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 25 January 1951
Production Date:
late July--early September 1950
Copyright Claimant:
United States Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
17 February 1951
Copyright Number:
LP785
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
86 or 88
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

After patient investigation, Assistant District Attorney Martin Ferguson is ready to present his case against Albert Mendoza, reputed to be the head of a murder-for-hire ring. Joseph Rico, Ferguson's sole witness against Mendoza, is fearful for his life and suddenly decides not to testify. His fears seem justified when snipers outside Ferguson's office fire at Rico. A terrified Rico then tries to escape from the office and, in so doing, falls to his death. With his case against Mendoza broken, Ferguson and police captain Frank Nelson spend the night painstakingly going over old files, trying to construct the case: In a local police station, "Duke" Malloy hysterically claims "they made me kill my girl" and tells police that he had a contract to kill Nina Lombardo. When he fell in love with her and refused to carry out the hit, Tom "Philadelphia" Zaca, "Big Babe" Lazich and Smiley forced him to kill her. Realizing that he would be killed next, Malloy then ran away. Later, Malloy hangs himself in his cell. Nelson then hears that Zaca has been picked up and returned to the asylum to which he had been committed. From the attendants, the investigators learn that Zaca received a weekly packet of cigarettes from Olga Kirshen. After questioning, Olga directs them to Smiley's apartment, where they discover that he has been killed. Eventually, Nelson and Ferguson manage to track down Big Babe. When he refuses to talk, they use his wife and child to force him to testify. Big Babe tells the police that they received their contracts from Rico, who took orders from someone over the phone. ... +


After patient investigation, Assistant District Attorney Martin Ferguson is ready to present his case against Albert Mendoza, reputed to be the head of a murder-for-hire ring. Joseph Rico, Ferguson's sole witness against Mendoza, is fearful for his life and suddenly decides not to testify. His fears seem justified when snipers outside Ferguson's office fire at Rico. A terrified Rico then tries to escape from the office and, in so doing, falls to his death. With his case against Mendoza broken, Ferguson and police captain Frank Nelson spend the night painstakingly going over old files, trying to construct the case: In a local police station, "Duke" Malloy hysterically claims "they made me kill my girl" and tells police that he had a contract to kill Nina Lombardo. When he fell in love with her and refused to carry out the hit, Tom "Philadelphia" Zaca, "Big Babe" Lazich and Smiley forced him to kill her. Realizing that he would be killed next, Malloy then ran away. Later, Malloy hangs himself in his cell. Nelson then hears that Zaca has been picked up and returned to the asylum to which he had been committed. From the attendants, the investigators learn that Zaca received a weekly packet of cigarettes from Olga Kirshen. After questioning, Olga directs them to Smiley's apartment, where they discover that he has been killed. Eventually, Nelson and Ferguson manage to track down Big Babe. When he refuses to talk, they use his wife and child to force him to testify. Big Babe tells the police that they received their contracts from Rico, who took orders from someone over the phone. Because the killers had no motive for the murder, they could not be traced. Then Ferguson learns that Thomas O'Hara has been shot. When Ferguson questions him in the hospital, O'Hara explains that he fingered Nina for Malloy: After a few weeks, Malloy, who has fallen in love with Nina, pays O'Hara to call Rico and tell him the contract has been filled. In retaliation for the deception, Nina and Malloy are killed, and a murder attempt is made on O'Hara. Nelson and Ferguson question Nina's roommate, Theresa Davis, who discloses that Nina had changed her name from Angela Vetto because of something that had happened to her father, Tony Vetto. A missing persons report on Vetto reveals that he once witnessed a murder. Then Ferguson and Nelson are called to the asylum because someone is trying remove Zaca against his will. After Ferguson promises Zaca safety in exchange for his testimony, he admits that under Rico's orders, he forced a barber to help kill Vetto, a cab driver who had recognized a man he had once seen commit a murder. Ferguson and Nelson obtain the address of the organization's undertaker, and he leads them to the marsh where he buried the bodies. A massive effort to identify the bodies ensues, but no connection between them can be found. As the police net draws closer, Rico offers to talk. He divulges that he witnessed the murder of the one man Mendoza killed himself, at the inception of his murder-for-hire racket. Rico and Mendoza are spotted leaving the scene by Vetto and his young daughter. With their deaths, no one can connect Mendoza to the killings. Ferguson and Nelson finish combing the case files in the early hours of the morning without uncovering anything that will convict the criminal. Ferguson then visits Mendoza in his cell and shows him pictures of his victims, hoping to spark feelings of guilt. When Mendoza sees Nina's photograph, he immediately calls his lawyer, who then gives another member of the organization a new contract. Meanwhile, listening a second time to a tape of Rico's confession, Ferguson realizes he mentioned Angela's blue eyes. Because Nina had brown eyes, Ferguson understands that O'Hara fingered the wrong woman, and Theresa is really Angela. In a tight race with the killers, Ferguson succeeds in getting to Theresa first. The killers are arrested, and Theresa agrees to testify against Mendoza. +

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

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