An Offer You Can’t Refuse #8: Force of Evil (dir by Abraham Polonsky)

The 1948 film noir, Force of Evil, plays out like a fever dream of dark and disturbing things.

The film begins on the third of July with attorney Joe Morse (John Garfield) telling us that, by the end of the 4th of July, he will have made his first million dollars, something that he describes as being “an important moment in every man’s life.”  Joe has an appreciation of money that one can only get from growing up poor.  By his own admission, Joe spent most of his youth on the streets, committing petty crimes.  It was his older brother, Leo (Thomas Gomez), who held things together back home and who kept Joe from getting into any truly serious trouble.  Now, years later, Joe is an attorney and Leo is a small-time player in New York’s numbers racket.

(The numbers racket, as the film explains, is an illegal lottery in which people — mostly in working class neighborhoods — bet on which three numbers will be drawn at the end of the day.  In this film, those three numbers are the last three digits of “the handle”, the amount race track bettors placed on race day at a major racetrack, published in the major newspapers in New York.)

Joe now works for Ben Tucker (Roy Roberts).  Tucker may look like a respectable businessman and he may operate out of an office building but he’s actually a gangster.  He got his start as a bootlegger and then, after prohibition ended, he moved into the number game.  He and Joe have come up with a scheme to consolidate and take over the entire New York numbers racket.  They’re going to fix the handle so that, on July 4th, everyone who picks “776” as their three numbers will win.  (As Joe explains, a mix of patriotism and superstition leads to thousands of people picking 776 on every Independence Day.)  When the small time operators don’t have the money to pay off the winners, Tucker will loan them the money to stay afloat.  However, by accepting the loan, the operators will now be in debt to Tucker and Tucker will basically control their operations.  Anyone who doesn’t want to work for Tucker will either be out of work or dead.  It’s all strictly business.

The only problem is that Joe knows that the plan will basically bankrupt Leo.  When Joe goes to Leo and tries to warn him, Leo refuses to listen to him.  Leo may be a criminal but he’s an honest criminal and he has no interest in getting involved with someone like Ben Tucker.  Leo watches out for the people working underneath him and treat them fairly, a concept that men like Ben Tucker will never understand.  In fact, the only thing that Leo asks from Joe is that Joe make sure that Leo’s longtime secretary, Doris Lowry (Beatrice Pearson), is taken care of.

Needless to say, things get even more complicated from there….

Force of Evil presents us with a world where everyone — with exception of maybe Doris — is corrupt and where everything — from blackmail to murder — is strictly business.  Greed is the motivator for every action and the more money that comes in, the easier it is to justify every ruthless act.  Joe makes his fortune over the course of one of America’s most sacred holidays but it comes at the expense of his brother.  His brother tries to do the right thing as far as his employee are concerned, just to discover that the Walter Tuckers of the world don’t care what happens to the people who work for them as long as the money keeps coming in.  It’s a dark and cynical movie, a gangster movie were the cops are just as dangerous as the people they’re arresting and where concepts like love and loyalty mean nothing when there’s money to be made.

As directed by Abraham Polonsky, Force of Evil plays out like a filmed nightmare.  Every interior seems to be full of ominous shadows and the exterior scenes always seem to find characters like Leo Morse and his timid accountant (Howland Chamberlain) dwarfed by the city around them.  Gangsters like Ben Tucker and his associates emerge from the darkness, with the film’s final shoot-out taking place in complete darkness and featuring characters shooting at shadows despite not knowing who that shadow might belong to.  It’s a dark and claustrophobic world that Polonsky presents, one that always seems to be closing in on the Morse brothers and the people unlucky enough to be around them.  (The real world would later close in on Polonsky, an unapologetic Marxist whose ideology is obvious in the film’s portrait of crime just being another form of big business.  Polonsky was among those blacklisted in the 50s.  Force of Evil was the first of only three movies that he would ever direct.)

John Garfield plays Joe Morse with a barely contained anger.  Even after he’s made his first million, he’s still angry at the world.  Getting rich is his revenge on a society that predicted that someone like him would never amount to anything.  Roy Roberts is perfectly sleazy as the outwardly respectable Walter Tucker and Marie Windsor has a few wonderful scenes as his vampish wife.  Perhaps the film’s best performance comes from Howland Chamberlain, playing an accountant who soon finds himself in over his head as Tucker makes his move on Leo’s operation.

Tough, violent, and visually unforgettable, Force of Evil is an excellent gangster film and a classic noir.  It’s definitely an offer that you can’t refuse.

John Garfield in Force of Evil

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties


30 Days of Noir #7: The Sniper (dir by Edward Dmytryk)

Halfway through the chilling 1952 film, The Sniper, there’s a scene in which a woman is seen standing on the rooftop of a San Francisco apartment building.  She’s nonchalantly hanging laundry.  When she steps to the side, we suddenly see that there’s a man standing on the next rooftop over.  And he’s holding a rifle.

Fortunately, in this case, the man is a policeman.  He’s one of several cops who have been ordered to stand on rooftops with their weapons drawn and to keep an eye on the city below.  There’s a killer on the loose and the city is demanding that the police capture him.  And yet, even with a city that’s caught in the grip of fear and even with heavily armed men watching everything going on in the streets, life goes on.  People go to bars.  People go to work. Couples stroll in the park.  And one woman hangs her laundry to dry on the rooftop of an apartment building.

Suddenly, the policeman spots someone on another rooftop, a man who isn’t supposed to be there.  He’s a young guy, carrying what looks like a rifle.  The police quickly rush to the rooftop where they arrest the young man.  Have they caught the sniper who has been terrorizing San Francisco?

The police think that they have their man but we know that they don’t.  We know that the sniper is a guy named Eddie Miller (Arthur Franz).  Eddie is a delivery man.  He’s handsome but, from the minute we first see him, we can tell that there’s something off about him.  He stumbles through life, keeping his head down and rarely speaking to anyone.  The few times he does attempt to smile, it’s painfully awkward.  He’s someone who is struggling to convince the people of San Francisco that he’s one of them but the more he tries, the more of an outsider he seems to be.  In fact, the only time that we see Eddie truly happy is when he goes to a carnival and comes across a dunk tank.  Over and over again, he throws a baseball and cause the woman inside to be submerged in cold water.

At first, Eddie tries to deal with his bad thoughts by deliberately burning his hand on an electric stove.  When he goes to the emergency room, he asks the attending doctor why he would do something like that but the doctor is soon distracted by another patient.  With his hand bandaged, Eddie goes on a shooting spree, targeting brunette women.

This dark film is fairly evenly divided, between Eddie, the cops that are trying to catch him, and the psychiatrist who tries to explain him.  Not surprisingly, the cops, led by the appropriately named Lt. Kafka (Adolphe Menjou), aren’t particularly interested in what makes the sniper tick.  They just want to get him off the street.  However, Dr. James Kent (Richard Kiley) is convinced that the only way to stop not only this killer but others is to understand what’s going on inside of his mind.  The differences between Kafka and Kent’s approaches are most obvious in a scene in which every registered sex offender in San Francisco is paraded into a squad room full of jeering cops.  While the detectives taunt the offenders that they know, the offender that they don’t know prepares to kill yet again.

The Sniper was directed by Edward Dmytryk, who previously directed the Oscar-nominated (and superficially similar) Crossfire.  This was Dmytryk’s first film after his career was temporarily derailed by his refusal to testify before the House Unamerican Activities Committee.  (He later changed his mind and named names while testifying about his time as a member of the Community Party.)  Interestingly enough, top-billed Adolphe Menjou was one of the leaders of the anti-communist Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a prominent supporter of the blacklist that Dmytryk had narrowly escaped.

Filmed in a black-and-white, documentary style, The Sniper is a chilling and disturbing film.  When Eddie stalks through the city at night, the dark shadows that he casts against the walls of empty alleyways and closed storefronts serve to remind us that men like Eddie could be lurking anywhere, unseen and unknown.  During the day scenes, the harshly bright lighting reminds us of just how vulnerable we are.  If the night provides too many places to hide, the day provides too few.  Arthur Franz gives a disturbingly credible performance as Eddie.  While he plays Eddie as being obviously troubled, he also suggests how someone like Eddie has managed to survive without getting exposed.  Menjou is properly cynical as the world weary Kafka while Richard Kiley brings some needed passion and anger to the film’s most talky scenes.  The film ends on a note of melancholy ambiguity, leaving it to us to make up our own mind about how to deal with the Eddie Millers of the world.

Crime Does Not Pay: Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING (United Artists 1956)

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Before Stanley Kubrick became Stanley Kubrick, he made a pair of low-budget crime dramas in the mid-50’s that are standouts in the film noir canon. The second of these, THE KILLING, is a perfect movie in every way imaginable, showing flashes of the director’s genius behind the camera, featuring just about the toughest cast you’re likely to find in a film noir, and the toughest dialog as well, courtesy of hard-boiled author Jim Thompson.

THE KILLING is done semi-documentary style (with narration by Art Gilmore), and follows the planning, execution, and aftermath of a two million dollar racetrack heist. Sterling Hayden plays the mastermind behind the bold robbery, a career criminal looking for one last score. He’s aided and abetted by a moneyman (Jay C. Flippen ), a track bartender (Joe Sawyer ), a teller (Elisha Cook Jr. ), and a crooked cop (Ted de Corsia ). He…

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Dear Old Alma Mater: John Wayne in TROUBLE ALONG THE WAY (Warner Brothers 1953)

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Tomorrow’s the big night, as my New England Patriots go up against the tough defense of the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. Tom Brady and company will be going for Ring #6, and everyone here in Southern New England is super excited, looking forward to another victory celebration! I’ll be attending a huge party with plenty of food, big screen TV’s, raffles, squares, and like-minded fans, but before the festivities begin, let’s take a look at TROUBLE ALONG THE WAY, a football-themed film starring none other than Big John Wayne !

St. Anthony’s College is a struggling Catholic university run by sweet old Father Burke, who’s getting to be as decrepit as the school itself. The powers-that-be want to close his beloved St. Anthony’s, seeing how the school’s $170,000 in debt, but old Father Burke comes up with an idea. Citing Deuteronomy 32:15 (“The beloved grew fat and kicked”)…

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Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 11: Five from the Fifties

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The 1950’s were a time of change in movies. Television was providing stiff competition, and studios were willing to do anything to fend it off. The bigger budgeted movies tried 3D, Cinerama, wide-screen, and other optical tricks, while smaller films chose to cover unusual subject matter. The following five films represent a cross-section of nifty 50’s cinema:


BORDERLINE (Universal-International 1950; D: William A. Seiter)

BORDERLINE is a strange film, straddling the borderline (sorry) between romantic comedy and crime drama, resulting in a rather mediocre movie. Claire Trevor plays an LAPD cop assigned to Customs who’s sent to Mexico to get the goods on drug smuggler Pete Ritchey (Raymond Burr , being his usual malevolent self). She’s tripped up by Ritchey’s rival Johnny Macklin (Fred MacMurray , channeling his inner Walter Neff), and taken along as he tries to get the dope over the border. What she doesn’t know is he’s also…

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Fabulous Forties #32: Outpost in Morocco (dir by Robert Florey)


After watching the excellent The Last Chance, I was really hoping that the 32nd film in the Fabulous Forties box set would turn out be a classic as well.  Sadly, that was not the case.  1949’s Outpost in Morocco is a generally forgettable adventure film about the French Foreign Legion.

George Raft plays Capt. Paul Gerard, a captain in the French Foreign Legion.  Now, I happen to like George Raft.  He may not have been the greatest actor of Hollywood’s Golden Age but he did have a roguish charm and he was a great dancer.  Unfortunately, while the role of Paul Gerard did call for a bit of charm, it didn’t call for much dancing.  Instead, Paul Gerard is rather stolid and dependable and a little bit boring.  Needless to say, George Raft was more than a little miscast in the role.

Speaking of miscast, the beautiful but very American Marie Windsor plays Cara, the daughter of the Emir of the Moroccan city of Bel-Rashad.  The French are not allowed to enter the city and there are rumors that the Emir has been using this situation as an opportunity to plot against France.  Since Cara has spent the last few years studying in France, she is willing to go into Bel-Rashad and report on whether or not the rumors are true.  Gerard is assigned to escort her to the city.  Gerard’s superiors suspect that Cara might even fall in love with Gerard and, as a result, will be willing to turn against her father.

And that’s exactly what happens!  It takes exactly 10 days for Cara and Gerard to fall in love.  (We know this because the film is full of excerpts from a journal that Gerard keeps as he escorts Cara across the desert.)  However, once they reach Bel-Rashad, Cara does discover that her father is indeed conspiring against the French.  It is up to Gerard to put down the revolution and defeat the Emir, even if it means potentially sacrificing his love for Cara.

It’s interesting to note that there’s a few scenes where Raft sounds like he’s trying to imitate Humphrey Bogart, which immediately reminded me of how so many of Bogart’s great roles were initially offered to Raft.  I found myself wondering if Raft agreed to do Outpost in Morocco to make up for refusing Bogart’s role in a certain other film that was set in Morocco.

Unfortunately, Outpost in Morocco is no Casablanca.  Whereas Casablanca is a classic that holds up to this day, Outpost in Morocco is best described as being … well, dull.

How boring in Outpost in Morocco?  George Raft looks bored.  Marie Windsor looks bored.  Even the great character actor Akim Tamiroff looks bored!  Portions of the film were shot on location in Morocco so there are a few nice shots of the desert (if that’s your thing) and the ending is a bit darker than you might normally expect for a 1949 adventure film but otherwise, Outpost in Morocco is a fairly forgettable film.

Insomnia File #1: The Story of Mankind (dir by Irwin Allen)

Story of Mankind

What’s an Insomnia File?  You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable?  This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, last night, you were suffering from insomnia at 3 in the morning, you could have turned on TCM and watched the 1957 faux epic, The Story of Mankind.

I call The Story of Mankind a faux epic because it’s an outwardly big film that turns out to be remarkably small on closer inspection.  First off, it claims to the tell the story of Mankind but it only has a running time of 100 minutes so, as you can imagine, a lot of the story gets left out.  (I was annoyed that neither my favorite social reformer, Victoria C. Woodhull, nor my favorite president, Rutherford B. Hayes, made an appearance.)  It’s a film that follow Vincent Price and Ronald Colman as they stroll through history but it turns out that “history” is largely made up of stock footage taken from other movies.  The film’s cast is full of actors who will be familiar to lovers of classic cinema and yet, few of them really have more than a few minutes of screen time.  In fact, it only takes a little bit of research on the imdb to discover that most of the film’s cast was made up of performers who were on the verge of ending their careers.

The Story of Mankind opens with two angels noticing that mankind has apparently invented the “Super H-Bomb,” ten years ahead of schedule.  It appears that mankind is on the verge of destroying itself and soon, both Heaven and Hell will be full of new arrivals.  One of the angels exclaims that there’s already a housing shortage!

A celestial court, overseen by a stern judge (Cedric Hardwicke) is convened in outer space.  The court must decide whether to intervene and prevent mankind from destroying itself.  Speaking on behalf on humanity is the Spirit of Man.  The Spirit of Man is played by Ronald Colman.  This was Colman’s final film.  In his heyday, he was such a popular star that he was Margaret Mitchell’s first choice to play Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind.  However, in The Story of Mankind, Colman comes across as being a bit bored with it all and you start to get worried that he might not be the best attorney that mankind could have hired.

Even more worrisome, as  far as the future of mankind is concerned, is that the prosecutor, Mr. Scratch, is being played by Vincent Price.  Making his case with his trademark theatrics and delivering every snaky line with a self-satisfied yet likable smirk on his face, Vincent Price is so much fun to watch that it was impossible not to agree with him.  Destroy mankind, Mr. Scratch?  Sure, why not?  Mankind had a good run, after all…

In order to make their cases, Mr. Scratch and the Spirit of Man take a tour through history.  Mr. Scratch reminds us of villains like the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu (John Carradine) and the Roman Emperor Nero (Peter Lorre, of course).  He shows how Joan of Arc (Hedy Lamarr) was burned at the stake.  The Spirit of Man argues that, despite all of that, man is still capable of doing good things, like inventing the printing press.

And really, the whole point of the film is to see who is playing which historical figure.  The film features a huge cast of classic film actors.  If you watch TCM on a semi-regular basis, you’ll recognize a good deal of the cast.  The fun comes from seeing who tried to give a memorable performance and who just showed up to collect a paycheck.  For instance, a very young Dennis Hopper gives a bizarre method interpretation of Napoleon and it’s one of those things that simply has to be seen.

And then the Marx Brothers show up!

They don’t share any scenes together, unfortunately.  But three of them are present!  (No, Zeppo does not make an appearance but I imagine that’s just because Jim Ameche was already cast in the role of Alexander Graham Bell.)  Chico is a monk who tells Christopher Columbus not to waste his time looking for a quicker way to reach India.  Harpo Marx is Sir Isaac Newton, who plays a harp and discovers gravity when a hundred apples smash down on his head.  And Groucho Marx plays Peter Miniut, tricking a Native American chief into selling Manhattan Island while leering at the chief’s daughter.

And the good thing about the Marx Brothers is that their presence makes a strong argument that humanity deserves another chance.  A world that produced the Marx Brothers can’t be all bad, right?

Anyway, Story of Mankind is one of those films that seems like it would be a good cure for insomnia but then you start watching it and it’s just such a weird movie that you simply have to watch it all the way to the end.  It’s not a good movie but it is flamboyantly bad and, as a result, everyone should see it at least once.




A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Cat-Women Of The Moon (dir by Arthur Hilton)

With Arleigh away in Boston, I originally thought that this weekend would present the perfect opportunity to turn Through The Shattered Lens into the web’s premier site for Twilight fan fiction and soulful Edward Cullen gifs.  I was even planning on writing a post about how, by simply using time travel as a plot device, one could do a massive Twilight-Divergent-Hunger Games crossover.  (Essentially, Katniss and Tris would work together to raise Bella’s self-esteem but there was a lot more to it than just that….)

It was going to be glorious but then I got distracted by a 1953 film called Cat-Women of The Moon.  

Cat-Women of the Moon attempts to imagine what will happen when mankind finally attempts to launch an expedition to the moon.  According to this film, it will involve four men and one woman sitting around on a rocket and trading sexist quips.

Among our crew:

Laird Grainger (Sonny Tufts) is the philosophical but tough captain who talks about the eternal mysteries of the stars.

Helen Salinger (Marie Windsor) is the ship’s navigator.  She also happens to be — GASP! — a female.  When asked why she should be allowed to step foot on the moon with the men, she replies, “Somebody needs to cook your meals!”  Because, you know, it’s 1953…

Then there’s Walter Walters (Douglas Fowley) who is secretly New Mexico’s biggest supplier of meth.  Oh wait — sorry, wrong Walter.  Walter Walters is just some guy with a mustache who won’t stop talking about how he’s going to use the moon to get rich.

And then there’s Kip (Victor Jory) and Doug (Bill Phipps), two all-American boys who deal with their problems by first considering their options and then shooting anyone who happens to be standing in their way.

Anyway, once the rocket finally does reach the moon, our intrepid crew discovers that not only does the moon have an atmosphere but it’s inhabited by both a giant spider (which looks a bit like an ill-conceived piñata whenever it dangles over the heads of our astronauts) and the Cat-Women of the Moon (played, the opening credits tell us, by “THE HOLLYWOOD COVER GIRLS”).

Now, if you’re like me, you probably saw the film’s title and then assumed that the film would be about women who were half feline.  You would be wrong.  Despite the film’s title, the Cat-Women don’t have much to do with actual cats.  Instead, they’re the last 8 members of an ancient race.  They all wear black leotards and, when Doug asks where their “menfolk” are, they reply that they have no need of men.

Oh, and get this — they spend all of their spare time dancing!

Seriously,whether they’re actually descended from cats or not,  the Cat-Women rock!  If I ever manage to trick Richard Branson into sending me to the moon, I’m joining up with the Cat Women!  Sorry, Earth men, y’all were fun and all but I’m a cat woman at heart…

Except, according to this film, the Cat Women might not be on the moon anymore.  Apparently, the moon’s atmosphere was evaporating and the Cat Women needed to steal the rocket so they could go to Earth and, as their leader puts it, convince all the women on Earth to rise up and destroy all the men.

Seriously, I was totally on her side.  Solidarity, sisters!

So, what do you think happened?  Did the Cat Women’s plot succeed or did our brave crew somehow manage to save the patriarchy?

You’ll have to watch to find out.  The film is only an hour and 8 minutes long and, if you’re like me and you enjoy watching movies that are so bad that they’re good, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Cat-Women Of The Moon!