Thursday, August 8, 2013

It Took Two Directors to Tell the Murder, Inc. Story

Humphrey Bogart as Dist. Atty. Martin Ferguson
"The Enforcer" is one of the lesser appreciated Bogart films, but it deserves more attention than it gets. Granted, it's no "Maltese Falcon." It would be a tall order equaling "Falcon" director John Huston's artistry. But "Enforcer" directors Bretaigne Windust  and Raoul Walsh (uncredited) pull off an impressive feat in keeping the complex story in balance. Walsh directed the suspenseful -- translation: best -- scenes. Windust was primarily a Broadway director, and perhaps needed help putting the action sequences, including story's conclusion, on film.
The story centers around a crusading district attorney -- aren't all district attorneys crusaders in the movies? Bogart ably fills that role, but it's not much of a stretch for the veteran actor. A taut script, bristling dialog and neatly directed scenes keep this thriller on track, no matter how complex the yarn becomes. It's all based on the real-life Murder, Inc., syndicate that provided hitmen for hire.
The film's structure is complex. Flashbacks within flashbacks are liberally sprinkled throughout. They do the job that they're supposed to do, and just when the film veers perilously close to being a gab-fest -- there's no way around using dialog-driven sequences -- Windust and Walsh pull a rabbit out of the proverbial hat with credible and unexpected plot twists or just plain bone-crunching action. Check out the scene with Rico (Ted De Corsia) inching his way across a lofty ledge on a building's facade. Windust/Walsh keep the tension excruciatingly high throughout. It takes a while before we finally meet the heavy, Mendoza (Everett Sloane), and when we do, he's spectacularly unassuming -- until finally we see him serve up the product his syndicate delivers for cash.
Zero Mostel also does a fine turn as the nervous hitman who quickly realizes that he chose the wrong profession.

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