Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Force of Evil (1948)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Force of Evil (1948)

In Abraham Polonsky's film noir crime drama, his debut film - one of the few Hollywood films at the time with a devastating critique of capitalism:

  • the opening, silky-smooth voice-over of young, successful, and on-the-make Wall Street lawyer Joe Morse (John Garfield) during a high-angle camera view of towering monolothic skyscrapers surrounding and overwhelming Trinity Church near Wall Street - he described how his principal client was Ben Tucker (Roy Roberts), the boss of a numbers racket: ("This is Wall Street and today was important because tomorrow, July Fourth, I intended to make my first million dollars, an exciting day in any man's life. Temporarily, the enterprise was slightly illegal. You see, I was the lawyer for the numbers racket....The suckers bet on any combination of three numbers, selected from the totals bet at some racetrack that day. Twenty million bettors a day in the United States - annual income of cheap crooks and racketeers over $100,000,000 dollars. It seemed a shame so much good money to go to waste in other people's pockets"); he had devised a racetrack betting scam-fix so that the winning lottery number on July 4th would be 776. Because so many superstitious bettors would make that bet, it would cause the many small numbers banks to go bankrupt and allow crooked Tucker to emerge as the city's #1 racketeer
  • citywide, racketeers were up against Link Hall (Arthur O'Connell), the city's new special prosecutor, who was on a crusade to eliminate numbers runners; however, as a self-proclaimed lawyer for the numbers racket, Joe was interested in becoming wealthy by making the racketeering legal for his Tucker Enterprises, Inc. client: "We've got a big retainer to change the numbers racket into a legal lottery"
  • Joe had a threatening discussion with his estranged, very honest older brother Leo Morse (Thomas Gomez) (with a weak heart) who had a small "numbers bank" of his own, urging him to give in and join his corrupt corporation: "Now, you listen to me! Something very serious is about to happen to your business. You're one of 20 or 30 numbers banks in the city - one of the smaller ones. Suppose a combine moves in. Suppose it organizes and merges these banks, eliminating the little ones, like yours. You're listening now, aren't ya? Suppose it reduces the overhead - legal fees, bail bonds. Supposing it reduces the cost and guarantees the profits. A man like you would be out of business, wouldn't you? You couldn't compete, could you? But suppose you had a brother, and this brother made your bank the number-one bank in the combination, in the merger, in the corporation...In return for the organization and service, in return for taking you into the combination, The corporation gets 2/3 of the profits and you get 1/3" - but Leo refused the proposed alliance deal, and accused Joe of blackmail: "Do you know what that is, Joe? Blackmail! That's what it is! Blackmail! My own brother blackmailing me!"; Joe angrily responded, calling his brother a "small man" for not wanting it; Leo emphatically rejected the offer: ("I’ll give you my answer, calmly and sensibly. My final answer. My final answer is finally No. The answer is No. Absolutely and finally No. Finally and positively No. No! No! No! N – O!")
  • Joe engaged in a lengthy (one long take) and seductive discussion in the back seat of a taxi with Leo's young secretary-bookkeeper Doris Lowry (Beatrice Pearson), when she described him: "You're a strange man, and a very evil one.."; he replied: "And you're a sweet child, and you want me to be wicked to you...Make a pass for you, bowl you over, sweep you up, take the childishness out of you, and give you money and sin. That's real wickedness"; she countered: "What are you trying to make me think, Mr. Morse? What are you trying to make me think about myself - and you?"; when she added: "I know it's not wicked to give and want nothing back," Joe described his determined ideas about ambition and getting pleasure from taking from others: "It's perversion. Don't you see what it is? It's not natural. To go to great expense for something you want, that's natural. To reach out to take it, that's human, that's natural. But to get your pleasure from not taking, from cheating yourself deliberately like my brother did today, from not getting, from not taking. Don't you see what a black thing that is for a man to do? How it is to hate yourself and your brother, make him feel that he's guilty, that, that I'm guilty? Just to live and be guilty"
  • on July 4th as predicted, bankruptcy struck all the small numbers banks in the city, including Leo's business, and he was reluctantly forced by Joe to ally himself with Tucker's operation; however, Leo's meek bookkeeper Freddy Bauer (Howland Chamberlin) refused and threatened to divulge the location of Leo's newly-reorganized and overtaken mob bank to special prosecutor Link Hall
  • although she had only a few minutes on-screen, mob boss Tucker's sultry femme fatale wife Edna (Marie Windsor) was working behind-the-scenes to manipulate and torment Joe, by appearing in his office with long black gloves and a breathy voice to deliver "bad news" about the threat of phone wire-tapping by the special prosecutor, while she belittled his manhood; fearing her strong-armed husband, Joe preferred to stay alive rather than give in to his partner’s seductive wife, so he summarily dismissed her; afterwards, he discovered his own desk phone was wire-tapped when he heard a "little click"
  • Joe slowly began to realize that the law was closing in on him; he also knew he had become indebted to the syndicated mob for life and was one of its corrupted victims, as he took a walk in a deserted Wall Street (amidst towering buildings)
  • Joe (and Doris) read newspaper headlines that Leo's bookkeeper Freddy Bauer had been killed and that Leo had been kidnapped (shortly later he died of a heart attack) by Tucker's business rival Ficco (Paul Fix); in retaliation during a major confrontational shoot-out, Joe was able to seek vengeance on both Tucker and Ficco (who had joined forces together); after Ficco shot and killed Tucker, Joe killed Ficco (for the murder of his brother)
  • in the conclusion, Joe (with Doris) searched for his estranged brother Leo's body - he passed factories and a meat-packing area, and ran down a great stone staircase - almost a descent into hell - from Riverside Drive down to the rocks by the Hudson River lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge, where he found the dumped body of Leo; he described his descent in voice-over, and how he would now turn himself in to Link Hall: ("I wanted to find Leo, to see him once more. It was morning by then, dawn, and naturally I was feeling very bad there as I went down there. I just kept going down and down there. It was like going down to the bottom of the world to find my brother. 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")
Joe's Search For and Discovery of Leo's Corpse
  • after finding Leo's body, Joe was determined to find justice for his brother by working with Link Hall to end corruption; he and Doris walked off, arm-in-arm, to an uncertain future

High Angle Shot: "This is Wall Street..."

Headlines: Special Prosecutor Link Hall To Drive Out Numbers Racketeers

Crime Boss Racketeer Ben Tucker (Roy Roberts)

Lawyer Joe's Threatening Proposal to His Brother Leo, and Leo's Emphatic No!

Joe's Relationship with Doris (Beatrice Pearson)

Joe with Sultry Femme Fatale Edna Tucker (Marie Windsor)

Joe's Walk Through Deserted Wall Street

Headlines: "Leo Morse Snatched; Bookkeeper Slain"

Ficco (Paul Fix)

Ending: Joe Walking Away with Doris to Seek Justice


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