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The Enforcer

Director: Bretaigne Windust

Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Zero Mostel, Ted de Corsia


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Humphrey Bogart plays Martin Ferguson, a prosecutor about to put Albert Mendoza (Everett Sloane), the head of a murder-for-hire ring, on trial. But the night before the trial, his key witness, Joe Rico (Ted de Corsia), dies in a fall out of the window of the room in which he's been guarded, part of an abortive escape attempt to keep from testifying. His case in


Humphrey Bogart plays Martin Ferguson, a prosecutor about to put Albert Mendoza (Everett Sloane), the head of a murder-for-hire ring, on trial. But the night before the trial, his key witness, Joe Rico (Ted de Corsia), dies in a fall out of the window of the room in which he's been guarded, part of an abortive escape attempt to keep from testifying. His case in shambles, Ferguson and detective Captain Nelson (Roy Roberts) try to piece the entire four-year investigation back together from square one, trying to find something that might give them another way to prosecute Mendoza. The main body of the movie is told in flashback, starting when a small-time hood named Duke Malloy (Michael Tolan, then billed as Lawrence Tolan) walks into a police station to turn himself in for killing his girlfriend -- and says that someone made him kill her. He babbles to the bewildered detectives about "hits" and "contracts" and men nicknamed Philadelphia, Big Babe, and Smiley. The body isn't found, but they arrest Malloy, who hangs himself in his cell. That dead end leads, almost by accident, to Philadelphia Tom Zaca (Jack Lambert), an asylum inmate who has to be put under sedation at the mention of Malloy's name. They find another suspect's body burning in his building's incinerator, and then Big Babe Lazick (Zero Mostel), a two-bit hood, hiding in a church in mortal fear of his life. He begins weaving a tale of a murder-by-contract ring and its head operator, Joe Rico, of a murder contract that Duke Malloy never filled on a girl who had to change her name, of mistaken identity and the murder of the girl's cab-driver father, and the connection between that and a murder that they both witnessed eight years earlier. In the midst of all of those interlocking stories (spread across ten years), there's something Ferguson missed -- when he had Rico to testify -- that he has to sort out from the reams of testimony and evidence, and he has to figure it out before Mendoza does, or lose the last witness he has.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
The Enforcer (1951) was one of the toughest, most violent crime thrillers of its period, and one of the most demanding of its audience both in terms of its violence and its story arc, incorporating multiple interwoven flashbacks in the manner of Citizen Kane. The latter attribute was rather coincidental, since the man at the center of this film, whom we don't even see until more than 69 minutes into the movie, is played by Everett Sloane, one of the stars of Kane. The Enforcer's story is based on the successful prosecution of Louis "Lepke" Buchhalter, the notorious New York mobster, and his gang of professional killers, which was known in the popular press as "Murder Inc." The death of Joe Rico (Ted de Corsia) while in custody echoes real-life key witness (and executioner) Abe Reles' fall from a guarded room on the top floor of a Brooklyn hotel; Sloane's Albert Mendoza is also a stand-in for Buchhalter (who was executed in 1944). The movie's directorial pedigree has always been a bit hazy. Broadway theater veteran Bretaigne Windust is credited with making The Enforcer, but it was action film veteran Raoul Walsh, working uncredited, who actually directed a major chunk of the movie, including all of the violent scenes. Between the two filmmakers, they created a film so engrossing that viewers were able to willingly suspend their disbelief. In that regard, The Enforcer (which was retitled "Murder Inc." in England) is more effective than the much more painstakingly accurate 20th Century Fox movie Murder, Inc. (1960), drawing the viewer into its complex story tapestry and overcoming some of the worst lapses in the script. Despite its being a police procedural in content, The Enforcer is often grouped with film noir movies, due in part to Robert Burks' deeply atmospheric photography and the choice of actors. Beyond Humphrey Bogart and Roy Roberts, Michael Tolan (billed as Lawrence Tolan) as the doomed strong-arm man Duke Malloy, Jack Lambert as asylum inmate/hitman Philadelphia Tom Zaca, Zero Mostel as whiny, neurotic Big Babe Lazick, John Kellogg as shaky, neurotic Vince, and Bob Steele as Herman (the gang's own enforcer) are made up and photographed to be like normalized versions of the kind of grotesque hoods seen in Dick Tracy cartoons. Steele is even scarier here than he is in Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep (1946), radiating quiet, calm menace in one key scene involving the execution of three colleagues. Even the incidental players, such as Susan Cabot in a small, but pivotal, role, and Adelaide Klein as mob contact Olga Kirshen resonate well in scenes of just a few seconds. Coupled with the dark moodiness of the whole film -- every scene seems to radiate menace -- the movie is an extraordinary achievement and, ironically, one that isn't as well known as it should be. Although it was made at and originally distributed by Warner Bros., The Enforcer belonged to its producer, Milton Sperling, and his United States Pictures, and later passed into the hands of Republic Pictures. It did a fair job of distributing it, but the movie was never packaged or grouped with Bogart's other Warner-distributed titles, such as High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, or Key Largo, with which it would have fit.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Olive Films

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Humphrey Bogart Martin Ferguson
Zero Mostel Big Babe Lazich
Ted de Corsia Joseph Rico
Everett Sloane Albert Mendoza
Roy Roberts Captain Frank Nelson
King Donovan Sgt. Whitlow
Lawrence Tolan Duke Malloy
Patricia Joiner Teresa Davis/Angela Vetto
Don Beddoe Thomas O'Hara
Tito Vuolo Tony Vetto
John Kellogg Vince
Jack Lambert Philadelphia Tom Zaca
Adelaide Klein Olga Kirshen
Susan Cabot Nina Lombardo
Mario Siletti Louis the Barber
Thomas P. Dillon Policeman
Montgomery Pittman Intern
Bob Steele Herman
Alan Foster Shorty
Harry Wilson B.J.
Robert Strong Secretary
Mike Lally Detective
George Meader Medical Examiner
Barry Reagan Intern
Pete Kellett Intern
Dan Riss Mayor
Ralph Dunn Sergeant
Perc Launders Police Sergeant
Art Dupuis Keeper
John Maxwell Doctor
Bud Wolfe Fireman
Brick Sullivan Police Chauffeur
Greta Granstedt Mrs. Lazick
Louis Lettieri Boy
Chuck Hamilton Policeman
Jay Morley Policeman
Richard Bartell Clerk
Karen Kester Nina as a child
Eula Guy Landlady
Creighton Hale Clerk
Patricia Hayes Teenager
Tom Dillon Policeman
Howard Mitchell Chief

Technical Credits
Bretaigne Windust Director
Fred Allen Editor
Robert Burks Cinematographer
David Buttolph Score Composer
Charles H. Clarke Art Director
William L. Kuehl Set Decoration/Design
Martin Rackin Screenwriter
Milton Sperling Producer
Dolph Thomas Sound/Sound Designer


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