The Enforcer

Premiered Jan. 25, 1951: THE ENFORCER, starring Humphrey Bogart, Zero Mostel, and Ted de Corsia. Directed by Bretaigne Windust (Winter Meeting, Perfect Strangers, Pretty Baby) and Raoul Walsh (uncredited) (They Drive By Night, High Sierra, The Man I Love). TheEnforcerHumphrey Bogart is a district attorney who is about to put the crime boss of Murder Inc. (Everett Sloane) on trial. His key witness is Sloane’s number two man (Ted de Corsia) who, on the eve of the trial, gets cold feet because he believes that even though Sloane is behind bars, he can still order a hit on him. Overcome with anxiety, de Corsia manages to escape police protection, but dies in the process. Left without any witnesses who can finger Sloane, Bogart and his police captain (Roy Roberts) decide to sift through all the testimony they’ve gathered in the hopes of finding a shred of incriminating evidence they might’ve previously overlooked. At this point, the film slips into flashback as it traces the case from its initial developments. As various key characters are introduced, the film uses the seldom-seen storytelling technique of a flashback within a flashback to move the plot along efficiently and effectively. The film gradually delves deeper into the malevolent inner workings of Murder Inc., a criminal organization whose only purpose is to earn money by committing killings for hire. Terms like “contract” and “hit” have become commonplace in reference to organized crime activity, but when The Enforcer was made, they were just starting to be introduced into the American lexicon, as is evidenced in the film. When Bogart encounters these terms early in his investigation, he doesn’t understand their meaning until later, when he learns they are code used by Murder Inc. Bogart delivers a strong performance as the DA, and this being a Hollywood film, the DA character does more than sit behind a desk and argue cases in court. Bogart’s DA is very hands-on and leads the charge in every phase of the investigation, including delivering a stiff right cross when necessary. The supporting cast give first-rate performances that are convincing and memorable, particularly de Corsia, Zero Mostel, and Sloane, who only appears twice in the film, but makes a powerful impression as the heartless criminal boss. This is a taught crime noir with a fascinating, fast-moving plot, bolstered by Bogart’s star power and an excellent cast. We give The Enforcer 4.5 out of 5 fedoras.

4.5 Fedoras

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