Directed and co-written by Abraham Polonsky (with Ira Wolfert who wrote the novel the film was based on), 1948’s Force of Evil is a an early example of what became a typical gangster film staple: the bad guys trying to go straight, turning their illegitimate businesses legitimate.

John Garfield stars as Joe Morse, a crooked lawyer who makes his living defending mob clients. eventually, he convinces his client syndicate head Ben Tucker (Roy Roberts) to go in on a plan to mislead the citywide gambling racket so that when all his competitors go bust, it will give them leverage to legitimize this kind of gambling. The only problem is that Joe’s older brother Leo (Thomas Gomez), operates a small-time numbers game (not connected with the syndicate) in a small apartment in the slums they grew up in.

While Joe wants “easy money,” Leo stubbornly refuses to join the syndicate and resents his younger brothers’ refusal to go legit. Things come to a head on July Forth, when Joe arranges for a 776 to come up. The number will break the banks and they can make them merge into the hands of Tucker. Joe pays Leo’s fine and urges him to close right away, he can’t rebound from bankruptcy. Worried that Leo will lose all his money over refusing to join the syndicate, he takes action to save his older brother. It leads to violence, as rival gangster Fico (Paul Fix) tries to muscle into the operation. It becomes readily apparent that the relationship between the Morse is broken beyond repair. Making things worse, is a new special prosecutor appointed by the NY governor, who taps the phones of Tucker and Joe, determined to bust the numbers racket.

Femme fatale Marie Windsor makes an appearance as Tucker’s wife, who has designs on Joe. Unfortunately, this subplot is not explored fully. Windsor only appears in two scenes, but one is memorable for the aggressive sexuality on display. Underrated these days, any appearance by Marie Windsor is a welcome development.

Kino Studio Classics presents a new 4K restoration of Force of Evil in 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Grain gives the proceedings a natural, filmic appearance. Softness is never an issue. The black and white photography looks brilliant throughout. Blacks are inky and whites offer fine contrast. No crush is apparent. No scratches or other print anomalies are in evidence. Viewers should be pleased with this transfer.

The DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track handles this dialogue heavy film well. Dialogue and background noises are well balanced throughout. The David Raskin score has a nice level of fidelity. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout. the light hiss heard in previous releases is gone.

English SDH subtitles are included.

The following extras are available:

  • Audio Commentary by Film Historian Imogen Sara Smith
  • Introduction by Martin Scorsese (HD, 3:33)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:33)

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