December 28, 1948 [Force of Evil]

With Force of Evil, Abraham Polonsky and John Garfield leave us an unsettling Christmas present. We open it slowly because it seems somehow dangerous—and there are layers to remove, and we grow less certain that we should go on—as we go on.

And we’re right: It is dangerous as it rages at “business as usual”—and “business” here is the numbers racket, just another corporation with the financiers, criminals; the customers, suckers. Garfield as Joe Morse, the gangster’s lawyer, is nervy—and nervous, knowing he moves closer to the edge with every bundle of cash he stuffs in his pockets—trying to give some of it to his numbers-banker brother, Leo with a bad heart that Thomas Gomez, his face greasy with sweat, clutches like a time bomb, like the only thing he really understands—always about to explode.

Polonsky sees capitalism as simply usury, a thing to be condemned—and why? He follows its trail, watches it turn villains into respectable thieves—no, investors—no, speculators buying and selling money itself—and the evil little dreams that come with it. Garfield’s narration is beautifully sad, and the dialogue follows his lead, the characters indulging in repetition, inching phrase by phrase toward truths they don’t want. Joe talks to Marie Windsor’s Edna about the weight he has to carry and asks her to imagine what it’s like to live and be guilty—and he repeats the line, “A man could spend the rest of his life trying to remember what he shouldn’t have said,” until he doesn’t care anymore what he’s said: Leo has been tossed down like rubbish, and Joe tells us he goes down there, where he finds his brother at the bottom there, the repetitions like mile-markers telling him he’s almost home, if only he’d turn back.

He starts on Wall Street, alone, as though the world had ended and all that’s left is the giant statue of George Washington, who can not tell a lie—so what, then, is he doing there? Who has propped him up to hide the truth? Joe Morse flees from that bronze shadow down to his brother, hoping in vain that maybe he can help.
NOTE: This is one of a number of diary entries that appear here out of order. In reviving this site, I've decided to go through the diary and include some entries that I had earlier left out. —The Editor


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