Force of Evil (1948)

TV-PG  |   |  Crime, Film-Noir, Drama  |  25 December 1948 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.4/10 from 3,991 users  
Reviews: 52 user | 45 critic

An unethical lawyer, with an older brother he wants to help, becomes a partner with a client in the numbers racket.



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Complete credited cast:
Edna Tucker
Howland Chamberlain ...
Freddie Bauer (as Howland Chamberlin)
Ben Tucker
Bill Ficco
Stanley Prager ...
Barry Kelley ...
Det. Egan
Paul McVey ...
Hobe Wheelock
Beatrice Pearson ...
Doris Lowry


Lawyer Joe Morse wants to consolidate all the small-time numbers racket operators into one big powerful operation. But his elder brother Leo is one of these small-time operators who wants to stay that way, preferring not to deal with the gangsters who dominate the big-time. Written by John Oswalt <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Crime | Film-Noir | Drama


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Release Date:

25 December 1948 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Tucker's People  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


In order to show cinematographer George Barnes how he wanted the film to look, Abraham Polonsky gave him a book of Edward Hopper's Third Avenue paintings. See more »


During a climactic montage set at an East Coast racetrack on the Fourth of July, people in the stock footage crowd scenes are dressed in winter garments nobody would wear in the middle of summer. See more »


[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.
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String Quartet opus 131, no. 14: Ist Movement
Music by Ludwig van Beethoven
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User Reviews

Abraham Polonsky's masterpiece
15 January 2006 | by (Van Buren, Arkansas) – See all my reviews

Oft times an author's first major work is his/her best work. This is true for director Abraham Polonsky. Had Polonsky not been blacklisted by the Hollywood and Congressional bigots who knows what he might have done. Certainly his earlier script for "Body and Soul" is one of the best in movie history. Since he was later blacklisted by the power hungry hooligans of the nation, it is easy to read too much Marxism and Communist psycho-babble into "Force of Evil." In pointing out that there is not much difference between underworld numbers banking and banking in the world of acceptable business, Polonsky is utilizing social and political criticism, not of necessity a Marxist slant. Marxism is an entire Utopian recreation of the economic world order, not artistic expression and intellectual conceptualization as presented by Polonsky in "Force of Evil." The director/writer is also concerned with moral bankruptcy in justifying evil as a means of rationalizing big profits from illegal activities.

There is a spin off story concerning two brothers, one of whom has warped scruples who helped his younger brother become a successful if now corrupt corporate lawyer with no scruples until tempered by the seemingly innocent babe in the woods Doris Lowry (Beatrice Pearson) who in reality has questionable morals herself yet clothed in hypocrisy. Both Doris and Leo Morse (Thomas Gomez)are pursued by their own demons. The viewer has to determine where the moral depravity or evil actually lies and with whom. The title "Force of Evil" could just as well be "THE Force of Evil," since evil tends to be almost omnipotent that every mortal is tempted and it takes very strong souls indeed to resist and remain true to heart. It's much easier to make a deal with the devil in the fashion of Faust and to take the wrong highway at the crossroads.

The brilliant John Garfield who left this world much too soon never gave a poor performance. Only Garfield could have done justice to the complicated complex character of Joe Morse. Yet Thomas Gomez stays up with Garfield all the way and nearly steals the show as Joe's impenetrable sibling whose persona appears one-dimensional on the surface until one begins to scratch away the enamel.

A delectable bonus for the viewer is the magnetic New York City photography that takes on the appearance of Edward Hopper paintings, as Polonsky intended. All the exterior shots are to be savored but one that sticks in the mind long after the film ends is near the final credits when Joe seeks where his brother Leo's body has been dumped. The narration by Joe tells it all as he runs in a desperate gait downward toward the murky water, with Doris trying to keep up but mainly just watching.

One of the neglected movie gems of the 1940's, not to be missed.

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