The Enforcer (1951)

Cinematography by

Robert Burks

Directors:

Bretaigne Windust, Raoul Walsh (uncredited)

The Enforcer (aka Murder, Inc.) is an American 1951 black-and-white film noir co-directed by Bretaigne Windust and an uncredited Raoul Walsh, who shot most of the film’s suspenseful moments, including the ending.The production, largely a police procedural, features Humphrey Bogart and is based on the Murder, Inc. trials.

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Critical response

When the film was released the staff at Variety magazine praised director Windust, writing, “The film plays fast and excitingly in dealing with Humphrey Bogart’s efforts to bring the head of a gang of killers to justice. The script uses the flashback technique to get the story on film, but it is wisely used so as not to tip the ending and spoil suspense … Bretaigne Windust’s direction is thorough, never missing an opportunity to sharpen suspense values, and the tension builds constantly.

Technically good crime story

8 February 2002 | by bob the moo (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

District Attourney Ferguson loses his only witness in the trial of Albert Mendoza – the head of Murder Incorporated, an organisation of killers. With hours to go to the case is dismissed, Ferguson decides to go back over the evidence from the start to try to find something else that could be used to try him.

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“The Enforcer” Backstage between takes 1950 Warner Bros.

This film is not very famous and is never listed when people talk of Bogart. This is mainly because it’s not part of his film noir, hard boiled batch and it doesn’t have a strong romantic subplot. However it’s still got much to cheer about. The story feels very basic by today’s standards – however this was one of the first films to bring in the language of hitmen, even though now everyone knows what a “hit” and a “contract” means. The story unfolds in flashbacks, and involves flashbacks within flashbacks – so it’s not as simple as you think. At it’s time it was very different to other films.

The performances are all good, the group of hitmen in particular stand out in their portrayal of tough guys who turn to fear and mistrust when the law closes in. Bogart is good in a straight role but despite his billing he is not the best role. De Corsia, Sloane, Mostel et al are the real stars and are very good in their hitmen guises.

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Ted de Corsia

The film was based on the discovery and cases of the real “murder inc” in the 40’s and is told in the crime story style that would become more used in the 1950’s. Due to our familarity of the hitman scene in movies nowadays, it won’t set the screen on fire but it’s still very enjoyable to watch.

The Enforcer (1976)Directed by James Fargo Shown at right: Humphrey Bogart

The Enforcer (1976) Directed by James Fargo Shown at right: Humphrey Bogart

Bogart and Burks (the photographer) are first rate…the rest tags along

9 February 2011 | by secondtake (United States) – See all my reviews

The Enforcer (1951)

Humphrey Bogart makes this film, and if you like him, you’ll love this. If you don’t know or care about Bogart, you’ll see what he’s all about here. The rest of the film is good, very good, but it’s standard fare. And it has a few moments of just incredulous stuff, like toward the beginning when they are protecting a key witness and they ignore the obvious problem of having the witness sit in front of a window across from a hotel. Naturally, a sniper takes a shot at him. I won’t say whether he succeeds, but it sets you up to be suspicious of the director and writer from there on.

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But there’s Bogie, the relentless investigator. He needs to put a terrible crime boss in the chair, and sets off to find proof against him, running up against mobsters who seem to be one step ahead, covering up or wiping out (with bullets) anything or anyone who might know something. It’s good stuff, but not great stuff. Director Bretaigne Windust had done some Broadway and a couple of films, but he doesn’t pull this together. I’m surprised a Bogart film at the top of his career was handled by Windust, but at this time Bogart had been battling the Hollywood Communist lists and blacklists, and he got his independent Santana production company going, and I’m guessing that he was working against a lot of the Hollywood mainstream at this point (as was John Huston, who used Bogart in “African Queen” the next year).

But this is Bogart at his best, really, just after “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “In a Lonely Place.” The photography is first rate (Robert Burks was by this point doing a whole bunch of Hitchcock films, too). In all, a decent, well made if unexceptional film.

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Post 1950 police noir with flashbacks inside of flashbacks.

Author: max von meyerling from New York
7 September 2003

This is a perfect example of the typical post-1950 noir which tended to be told from the point of view of the police rather than the criminal so they are less existential than the classic pre-1950 noir. Blame it on the blacklist. Anyway, it retains the noir virtues of a simple story economically told and expressively photographed. Only the garishness of containing a super star and being directed, uncredited, by Raoul Walsh , lifts this film to ‘A’ status but in fact this is a ‘B’ picture all the way.

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There are plot holes aplenty, cars which are fifteen years out of date, an unusually high body count and police procedures which would give the ACLU, if not the Supreme Court, apoplexy. That said The Enforcer is a lot of fun and a satisfying little picture. Connoisseurs of character actors will have a field day as the picture contains a who’s who of heavies and henchmen.

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THE ENFORCER is one of the few noirs with the hyper classic devise of a flashback inside of a flashback. In fact there are three of them. The body of the film is D.A. Humphrey Bogart and cop Roy Roberts reviewing their notes for a case against a murder for hire racket. During the review they recall the arrest Zero Mostel who tells a story about joining the gang of killers. Then they listen to a dying man who tells a story of a failed hit. In another flashback a man who we already know to be dead tells a story of the organizations first hit. There have been more convoluted flashback structures (there are some with flashbacks inside of flashbacks inside of flashbacks) but at least add THE ENFORCER to the list of noirs with flashbacks within flashbacks.

P.S. Ted de Corsia should either try to stay away from high places or else get a good pair of sneakers- c.f. THE NAKED CITY.

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Humphrey Bogart and Film Noir….what more could you want?!

8/10
Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
7 January 2009
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In 1949, Humphrey Bogart starred as a prosecutor in KNOCK ON ANY DOOR. The movie, in my opinion, was pretty lousy, as Bogart was amazingly “touchy-feely” and the film complained about how society is to blame for young hoodlums. However, with THE ENFORCER, once again Bogey was a prosecutor but with a much harder and clearly Film Noir edge. Instead of crusading to understand why young punks kill, this prosecutor was concerned with unraveling an organized crime racket whose income came through contract killings–talk about a change!

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The film begins with the only witness against the head of this organized crime ring practically crawling out of his skin because he’s so worried about being killed before he can testify in court. Through an accident, he does die and the case against “Mr. Big” seems dead. So, Bogey and his assistant review the case from the beginning and then all the things leading up to the current prosecution are shown step-by-step. It’s a nice way to see how the process works and it manages to be tense and entertaining throughout. Because of the great camera work, snappy dialog and gritty no-holds-barred approach, this is clearly a Noir film.

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The only negative about the film, and it’s a tiny one, is that while Bogart’s character is the prosecutor, he sure acts like a police detective! No sane prosecutor is going to take such risks and go on cases to investigate, as that clearly was the job of the cops. Still, if you ignore this small detail, it makes for a very dandy and satisfying film. Oddly, while an excellent movie, it is probably among the actors least famous and recognized films.

Finally, get a load of Everett Sloane in the film. This unassuming character actor sure plays against type in this movie–and it was surprising to see him in the role of Mr. Mendoza.

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