Trailing through film noir archives is always a source for fascination as you never know what will jump out of the celluloid.
If you do some homework you'll be guided to alight upon particular films among the several hundred deemed to qualify for the label.
Among these gems is Force of Evil.
At its 1948 release it was misunderstood and dismissed, but Abraham Polonsky's beautiful movie is one of the starkest of the noirs I've come across.
Here there are no good guys but the inevitable tragic ending generates a much broader ruling on the world from which this noir came.
John Garfield plays a lawyer working for a gangster and in his effort to enrich himself destroys the life of his own brother -- a role played by the always excellent Thomas Gomez ( a person who I think is one of the great film actors).
Standard noir melodrama perhaps. Throw in a love interest, some guns and street scenery -- and you get a formula film, right?
For one thing, Force of Evil boasts one of the most lyrical scripts you'll come upon.
Polonsky -- the writer/director -- into a brutal and relentless storyline, wove dialogue that is stand out gorgeous chat which almost attains a sort of Shakespearean relevance to the lot of these humans on screen. Caught up in conditions that rule their lives, everyone is forced to make the best of what may be to hand: who they work for, what they do...as they have precious little choice in the matter. That's what you have to do in order to survive.
Sylvia Morse: [referring to Joe] Don't have anything to do with him, Leo. You're a businessman.Leo Morse: Yes. I've been a businessman all my life. And honest - I don't know what a business is.
Sylvia Morse: Well, you had a garage... you had a real estate business.
Leo Morse: A lot you know. Real estate business... living from mortgage to mortgage... stealing credit like a thief. And the garage - that was a business! Three cents overcharge on every gallon of gas: two cents for the chauffeur and a penny for me. Penny for one thief, two cents for the other. Well, Joe's here now - I won't have to steal pennies anymore. I'll have big crooks to steal dollars for me!
That's Force of Evil's core moral presence: we are all shadowed by the evil the permeates the society in which we live. We may learn to coexist -- we have no choice -- but at its infective core the relentless force of this evil can only destroy all it touches as it is a resident evil driven by singular greed.
Leo Morse: The money I made in this rotten business is no good for me, Joe. I don't want it back. And Tucker's money is no good either.Joe Morse: The money has no moral opinions.
Leo Morse: I find I have, Joe. I find I have.
And that's the problem: money does indeed have no moral opinions. It rules over us by its promise of opportunity such that it warps our morality.
Joe Morse: To go to great expense for something you want – that’s natural. To reach out and take it – that’s human, that’s natural. But to get pleasure from not taking, by cheating yourself deliberately, like my brother did today, from not getting, not taking – don’t you see what a black thing that is for a man to do?
Force of Evil is a very thinly disguised metaphor for capitalism, and Polonsky, the dedicated soon-to-be-blacklisted Marxist that he was, pulls no punches in directing his first and the only movie he was allowed. This is stark stuff formatted by an overriding menace that those who object or protest, or try to drop out, will only suffer consequence.
Just like its writer/director did.
But then, Force of Evil -- despite its rank cynicism, brutal tragedies and its measure of the corruptive power of fear -- reminds us that hope rests in one option: if you don't fight, you lose.
[last lines - voice over]Joe Morse: I found my brother's body at the bottom there, where they had thrown it away on the rocks... by the river... like an old dirty rag nobody wants. He was dead - and I felt I had killed him. I turned back to give myself up to Hall; because if a man's life can be lived so long and come out this way - like rubbish - then something was horrible and had to be ended one way or another... and I decided to help.