(LIONS GATE HOME ENTERTAINMENT)
The auteur theory (the director is the sole author of a film ) is a theory that simply doesn't work for me, as it neglects the contributions of actor, screenwriters, cinematographers, production designers, editors, and others. Just look what happened to Hitchcock when Tippi Hedren replaced Grace Kelly, and when, instead of Grant, Stewart, and Bergman, he was compelled to utilize such comparative lightweights as Frederick Stafford, Bruce Dern, and (ugh!) Karen Black! Even Orson Welles, in an uncommon act of generosity, felt compelled to share his initial directors screen credit on CITIZEN KANE with cinematographer Gregg Toland. But I think I have found one, and only one, cinematic masterwork that comes closest to substantiating that theory: Abraham Polonsky's brilliant-beyond-belief tour de FORCE OF EVIL.
My friend of longest standing, Anthony Aiello, was generous enough to introduce me to Abe, and I got to know him well enough to realize I was in the presence of a gentleman of great and uncompromising integrity who was simply incapable of an untruth of any kind, no matter what the consequences, and as I watched the new Lions Gate DVD, a stunning realization hit home: FORCE OF EVIL is a film that completely reflects the beliefs, passions and standards of one man: Abe Polonsky . In fact, this forceful and unusually poetic (in a street-wise kind of way) masterpiece may be one of the most searingly truthful personal films ever made.
There's virtually no point in relating the plot of FORCE OF EVIL. The fact that it's about a Wall Street lawyer (the great John Garfield) who joins a get-rich-scheme of a mob boss who plans on bankrupting the city's small-time numbers racketeers is completely immaterial, and cannot come close to doing justice to the completely original style that is unique to this film, and this film alone. It is just plain impossible to adequately convey the astonishing degree of excellence of the performances, photography, editing and musical score. FORCE OF EVIL casts a spell like no other film ever has before or since, and Abe Polonsky, who co-wrote it , reveals himself to be a director of the first rank, a fact that makes his shameful black-listing one of the great artistic tragedies of all time.
When the Artisan Home Entertainment logo appeared on this dvd my heart sunk. That company, which has now (thankfully!) been absorbed by Lions Gate Entertainment, released some of the most atrocious classic transfers of all time, the worst being the non-anamorphic THE COURT MARTIAL OF BILLY MITCHELL and most especially the disgustingly oversaturated desecration of THE QUIET MAN that they released as a "special collector's edition." (Hint to Lion's Gate: Leonard Maltin mentioned that THE QUIET MAN has been restored to its original 3-strip Technicolor luster ---- how about it?) But the surprising fact is that this full-screen black and white transfer of FORCE OF EVIL is virtually flawless, and while it doesn't open with the UCLA Archive restoration logo that is so prominent on the Turner Classic Movies print, the spotless source material appears to be identical. Thank God. And Lion's Gate.