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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 <email@example.com>
This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1994. 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 »
This is a gripping film noir, dark and despairing in mood, co-written and directed by Abraham Polonsky, shortly before he was blacklisted in Hollywood for his left-wing views. Those views are perhaps implied in the plot, which is about the illegal numbers game, and the attempt of a big operator to gain a monopoly of the racket in New York. The film shows how everybody from the individual punter putting a few cents on a number to the gangsters making a fortune out of the operation is soiled by the racket. For Polonsky, the numbers game may have symbolised capitalism as a whole, with both bosses and workers being corrupted by the system. However, the details of the plot are less important than the mood, characterisations and visual aspects of the movie.
John Garfield is brilliant as the charming, amoral lawyer Joe Morse, a Mr Fixit for racket-boss Ben Tucker (Roy Roberts). Thomas Gomez plays Joe's sick, world-weary brother Leo, who also runs an illegal numbers game, but independently of the mob, in an honorable and decent fashion. Some of the best scenes in the film show Joe trying, as he sees it, to help Leo by bringing him into Tucker's operation, while Leo resists and berates Joe for using his ability and education in such an ignoble cause. Much of this intense dialogue is reminiscent of that in plays by Clifford Odets or Arthur Miller.
Also compelling, but with a lighter feel, are scenes between Joe and Doris (Beatrice Pearson) a quiet but assured young woman who works for Leo. Joe adopts slick patter, and runs himself down, in an attempt to gain her sympathy. Also in the movie, but with a disappointingly small part, is Marie Windsor, as Edna, Tucker's wife; in a longer, more commercial, film, her role of femme fatale would almost certainly have been expanded.
But it is the sets, location work, cinematography and editing which lift the film above the average. Practically every scene and shot has visual interest, and it is definitely one film you want to go on longer than its allotted 80 minutes.
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