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Force of Evil: Abraham Polonsky and Anti-Capitalist Noir

Welzenbach, Chris

Publisher:  CounterPunch
Date Written:  17/01/2018
Year Published:  2018  
Resource Type:  Article

Policy lies at the heart of Abraham Polonsky’s Force of Evil, arguably the most anti-capitalist film ever to emerge from Hollywood. Released 70 years ago to puzzled critics and an indifferent public, over time it would achieve cult status among devotees of film noir while offering a tantalizing glimpse of what might have been accomplished by Polonsky and other members of the Hollywood Left had the blacklist not intervened.



Polonsky both wrote (with novelist Ira Wolfert) and directed Force of Evil. Ostensibly a noir melodrama, the film takes direct aim at world of buying and selling as is immediately evident from its vertical opening shot of Trinity Church entombed by the monolithic structures framing Wall Street. We hear John Garfield as Joe Morse, the protagonist, in the following voice over: "This is Wall Street, and today was important because tomorrow, July 4, I intended to make my first million dollars."

Joe Morse was an unusual choice for Garfield, who is best remembered for his work in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and the above-mentioned Body and Soul. Both movies were substantial hits. In each film Garfield plays a working class character struggling against long odds. Joe Morse, by contrast, is a slick corporate attorney ensconced in a fashionable office. He works for a mobster named Tucker, played by Roy Roberts. The million dollars Joe Morse craves is to be drawn from the vast reservoir of cash generated by the illegal policy racket his principal client seeks to monopolize. In A Very Dangerous Citizen, Abraham Lincoln Polonsky and the Hollywood Left, Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner write that attorneys such as Joe Morse "might have law degrees from fancy institutions, wear silk hats, smoke pipes, and have offices 'in the clouds,' but they are still cheap hoods."


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