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After years of pursuit, Assistant D.A. Martin Ferguson has a good case against Murder, Inc. boss Albert Mendoza. Mendoza is in jail and his lieutenant Joseph Rico is going to testify. But Rico falls to his death and Ferguson must work through the night going over everything to build the case anew. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
According to the New York Times' Feb. 16, 2014 article on films influenced by the Kefauver hearings, Sen. Estes Kefauver appeared in a prologue for this film. See more »
When Rico gets in his car at the hideout on his way to fulfill a "contract" in the city, a crew member is visible in the reflection of the window of the car door as it is closed. See more »
[Albert Mendoza is about to be freed and Ferguson decides to show him pictures of his victims as a farewell present]
D.A. Martin Ferguson:
You think you can shut people up by killing them, but you're wrong. Maybe not in the courtroom but they'll be talkin' to you, Mendoza! At night when you're trying to sleep!
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Murder Inc/'The Enforcer' was officially directed by Bretaigne Windust, who made a small handful of forgettable films in the early fifties. Unofficially, it seems as if a large part of the movie was worked on by veteran action director Raoul Walsh, whose practised hands are revealed as much in the smoothness of the final product, as was Howard Hawks' in Christian Nyby's The Thing', another silent collaboration from the same year. While not on the same dynamic level as Walsh's own classic gangster/noir films including The Roaring Twenties' (1939), High Sierra' (1941) or White Heat' (1949), Murder Inc' is superior entertainment, featuring some great character actors and a characteristic Bogart performance.
He plays Assistant DA Martin Ferguson, struggling to build a case against a syndicate of killers (based on a real life organisation and its chief architect Albert Anastasia, which killed an estimated 400). Although principally a gangster film, the noir influences in the film can be easily be deduced by the use of light and shade, a pronounced flashback structure as well as strong feelings of paranoia amongst some of the participants.
It begins with the arrival of Joseph Rico (and was there ever an Italian heavy not called Rico?) into protective custody, on the eve of a big trial. His delivery marks the result of 2 years work by the justice department to nail, once and for all, one Albert Mendoza, head of the infamous murder company. Soon Rico panics and, after a tense ledge scene with the DA, the case against Mendoza has to be rebuilt from scratch. Cue much flicking through case files and the start of extended flashbacks, as Bogey struggles to remember the something in the back of his mind which may, or may not, provide the prosecution with fresh legs (it does).
Mendoza, who for most of the film remains an unseen, malevolent presence, is played by Everett Sloane, a member of Welles' Mercury Theatre. Sloane's slight, civilised persona is in stark contrast to the multiple deaths and evil he has promoted through his `brand new business'. By contrast Rico (as portrayed by the excellent Ted de Corsia), Mendoza's first recruit into the murder industry, and the squealer about to bring him to book, is in turn arrogant, whining, and cowardly. It is apt that the two meet initially during a working over' by one on the other, although Rico's easy acceptance of a drink by Mendoza after the beating is hard to swallow. Between these two extremes are the various other employees of the Syndicate, notably the flaky Big Babe (Zero Mostel) and the sadistic executioner Herman (played by the veteran B-Western actor, diminutive Bob Steele).
While the noirish aspects of Murder Inc' remain fresh and convincing, other details have dated less well. Made at a time when organised crime was gradually being revealed as the major threat to national law and order (FBI Chief Hoover still preferring to focus on the perceived threat from communist subversives), the film assumes that viewers are unfamiliar with the terms and concepts involved. Sixty years down the line, the lingua franca of Mafia killings and mob murder have entered the cinema goers vocabulary. In '51, many developments in organised crime were still fresh, and words such as hit' and contract' seemed more exciting. They are driven home like sledgehammers in Murder Inc', Ferguson being concerned to spell out their significance to the audience two or three times.
Such distractions aside, the film is very atmospheric, the action of which is fortunately undiluted by any love interest for the lead. One initially suspects that Ferguson might fall for Angelo Vetto (Patricia Joiner) with `her big brown eyes' but he remains sternly aloof from such romantic entanglements - although involved enough to save her life in tbe final, tense, showdown.
Thoroughly modern are the two cold, anonymous killers from out of town, brought into to close' the local office once the beans have been spilt. Bob Steele's ruthless, attention to his professional duties is in a tradition stemming from Al and Max in Siodmak's The Killers' (1946), one still going strong in crime cinema today (e.g. Beat Takeshi's Kyoya in Ishii's Gonin'(1995)). In comparison, Bogart's chain smoking, conscientious DA seems practically an innocent in the burgeoning world of contract crime.
The case against Mendoza is cracked by an all-night review of the evidence and a lucky hunch. Naturally it pays off, although we are never treated to seeing the case reach court, it is clear that he is in for the hot seat. Sweating in his cell, realising that his goons have terminated the wrong victim, Mendoza is the archetypal noir figure, one doomed by circumstances and fate beyond his control. Similarly the former employees of the murder syndicate, haunted figures in the twilight of crime like Babe and Rico, feel more noir than gangster. By not showing the judicial climax, just a relentless investigative process, and the inevitable fates and persecution of the guilty, Murder Inc' develops a noir strategy which gives it a characteristically dark feel, one separate from more traditional gangster movies. And, isolated as he is in the DA's office in the dark hours of morning, faced with a melt-down of his career and a deadline to prosecute, Bogart's pressure to convict is immense. His fear of allowing his prisoner to escape justice approaches personal paranoia. Ultimately he is driven to confront Mendoza in his cell with photographs of his victims, triggering the final scenes.
Still enjoyable today Murder Inc', deserves to be better known by Bogey's fans and noir enthusiasts alike. Although not a fully achieved genre piece, Walsh's help in the director's chair, as well as an excellent cast, help bring it up well out of the rut.
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