Force of Evil

Force of Evil is an American crime drama that follows the life of a crooked lawyer who gets tangled up in the merciless and dangerous world of gambling.

This 1948 film noir features 78 minutes of drama, passion and intensity as it displays a hearty message about the effects of gambling and, more importantly, those who control it.

Cast and Crew Members

Directed by Abraham Polonsky, Force of Evil is based on the novel, Tucker’s People by the very talented Ira Wolfert. Abraham Polonsky was an American film director, screenwriter, essayist and novelist who is well-known for being blacklisted by the Hollywood movie studios after refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early 1950s.

The film was produced by Bob Roberts, while art direction was led by accomplished art director, Richard Day, whose credits included The Grapes of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley and Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt.

Force of Evil starred the well-known actor, John Garfield, who often played the role of a rebellious, middle-class character and also worked with Polonsky in the film Body and Soul. John Garfield plays the role of crooked-lawyer Joe Morse, with Thomas Gomez as his brother Leo Morse, Beatrice Pearson as Doris Lowry and Roy Roberts as the villainous Ben Tucker.

Force of Evil Plot Overview

The film follows two brothers involved in the numbers racket in New York. Leo Morse is the eldest of the two, who owns what was called a small bank back then, but was in fact a shop for the numbers racket. His younger brother Joe is a young, crooked lawyer who appears ruthless, a lot more arrogant and explosive in character.

Joe is in quite deep with a dangerous gangster, Ben Tucker, and together they plan to take over and control the numbers racket, by fixing the numbers on the 4th of July lottery. By doing this the men will essentially wipe out all of the small banks in order to allow the mob to monopolise money-lending. Joe, displaying an unseen soft side, warns his brother of what’s coming in the hopes of pleasing Leo, however, the story instead continues to unfold with intensity, melodrama and poetic dialogue.

Release and Reviews

Force of Evil was released on the 25th of December 1948, and pulled in over 1 million dollars in Box Office.  Shortly after the film opened, Polonsky was blacklisted for being a communist party member and an OSS agent who went behind enemy lines. Essentially, what Polonsky had done was create an American film that actually dissected and criticised capitalism. The pressure on Garfield to testify was said to be so much that it caused his fatal heart-attack at the early age of 39.


Force of Evil has been nominated for American Film Institute’s 100 Years, 100 Movies as well as their 10 Top 10 Gangster Films. In 1994 the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry as being culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.

Martin Scorsese is said to believe that nobody could portray guilt on screen better that John Garfield, and acknowledges that Force of Evil has had a big influence on the making of his crime drama films.