That’s some line-up for the HUMPHREY BOGART starrer, THE ENFORCER. Trouble is I can’t identify them all, even after checking the cast list on IMDB.
From left to right, ? John Kellogg, Jack Lambert, Ted de Corsia, Zero Mostel, Michael Tolan, ?
These are some of the gangsters facing district attorney Martin Ferguson (Humphrey Bogart) as he battles to put big time criminal Mendoza (Everett Sloane) away.
This was a film I didn’t expect much of . That title alone and the accompanying publicity makes you think it’s a retro Bogie gangster movie. A better title would have been “Murder For Hire” because that is what the film is about.
I love watching a film for the first time and finding that it is SO much better than I expected. And that’s what happened with this film.
Everett Sloane ,as Albert Mendoza, has set up a ‘business’ of murder for hire which ,in its simplicity, means that if a person can afford the cost, Mendoza will arrange a killing which will never be traced back to the person hiring Mendoza’ s organisation (think Strangers On A Train).
The film grabs your attention right from the start as Rico ( Ted de Corsia) is escorted into the court building at night. He will be a witness the next day against his boss,Mendoza who is in a cell in the same building.
The Rico you see below is not the Rico at the start of the film. He’s terrified that Mendoza will somehow get to him before he testifies.He knows Mendoza can , through his lawyer, still arrange for him to be killed.
In his fear, he ends up trying to escape via the fire escape, and falls to his death.
Without him, the D.A. Ferguson (Bogart) and Captain Nelson (Roy Roberts) have no case. Ferguson tells Nelson they are going to go through all the evidence again if it takes all night ,and there is then an extended flashback explaining how the case against Mendoza started.
Duke Malloy (Michael Tolan) has come into a police station saying he killed his girlfriend. He starts using terms the police don’t know – the girl was a contract and killing her was a hit.
Like Rico later on, Malloy is all nerves and hangs himself in his cell.
That’s when the D.A. Ferguson gets involved by starting to check Malloy’s associates.
We then meet Big Babe Lazick ( the wonderful Zero Mostel) who, after some arm twisting by Ferguson, admits he is part of a group of killers under Rico who gets his instructions on the next contract over the phone.
Babe lead them to the body of Nina Lombardo, Malloy’s girlfriend.
Nina’s roommate,Teresa Davis ( Patricia Joiner) tells them that Nina’s real name was Angela Vetto and that she had been in hiding because ten years earlier Nina and her father witnessed a murder by Mendoza.
The murder contract room with suitably low key lighting. The men wait for their orders from Rico. When Babe joins them , he learns it is like being an employee – he and his family will be looked after as long as he does what he is told. None of them,except Rico, know who the boss is.
Everett Sloane , another great actor, as the mastermind behind the murder for hire scheme. Even when he is in a cell, his men fear him.
The two girls in the story, but there is an identity twist.
The plot never lets up and there is an exciting ending. The cast is tremendous . Bogart’s character isn’t clearly defined except that he has been working on this case for several years and is desperate to convict Mendoza. We learn nothing of the D.A.’s private life, and unusually, there is no romantic interest for Bogart. But it all works so well.
One great line of dialogue:
Captain Nelson: “How many bodies do you think we’ll find?”
Ferguson:”Any outfit that has got its own undertaker is operating on a pretty big scale.”
Apparently Bogart described it as a lousy film. I hope that’s not true. He wouldn’t be the first actor to not realise they are in a good film.
He does such a good job and is surrounded by a great supporting cast, led by Ted de Corsia and Everett Sloane.
The film was an independent from Harry Warner’s son in law, Milton Sperling. The film is now owned by Republic, a division of Paramount.
Martin Rackin wrote the dramatic script, The director was Bretaigne Windust but when he took ill, Raoul Walsh was called in and Walsh is credited with 5 days of retakes and additional scenes including the finale. I’ve read Walsh directed even more of the film and his style is evident – action, fast pace, gangsters!
A great double bill for me is The Enforcer and Vice Squad, both police procedurals but with so much more going for them because of the writing and the casts.
Watch out when this man is after you! Steele plays one of the hit men Mendoza employs to go after the girl who witnessed Mendoza carrying out a contract.
Adverts like this – “Bogart as The Enforcer” suggests he is the gangster! The title really is misleading.
This post is my entry in The Midnite Drive-In’s THE FILM NOIR BLOGATHON. Do check out all the great reviews at http://midnitedrive-in.blogspot.co.uk