When an informer who has agreed to testify against his mobster boss is killed, Assistant D.A. Martin Ferguson (Humphrey Bogart) reviews the case he has built up against the boss, searching for any discrepancies in the catalogued testimony. In flashbacks - and flashbacks within flashbacks - we see the stories of various hoods, informers, and killers, all of whom have been murdered for talking to the police. When pieced together, the flashbacks reveal an ugly, violent world of organized contract killings, a world which is brand-new to the authorities. The gang boss, Mendoza (Everett Sloane), though incarcerated and awaiting trial, is still a threat; he's able to order more 'hits' through inmates with outside contacts, directly from his cell. Ultimately, the story becomes about Bogart trying to keep one final witness alive to testify.
The first major Hollywood release to tackle the subject of organized crime, The Enforcer was also known as Murder, Inc. (also the film's British title). The script by Martin Rackin was based on actual events of a decade earlier, and Bogart's character was based on real-life crusading district attorney Burton B. Turkus. The subject was still topical, however; in 1950, public interest in organized crime was on the rise with the Senate Crime Investigation Committee's delving into the subject once again. (The committee was chaired by Senator Estes Kefauver, who delivers the film's spoken prologue.)
The Enforcer was shot in a mere five weeks with several Los Angeles locations being substituted for Brooklyn, New York. In addition to Bogart's iconic presence, the movie is also notable for a vivid cast of supporting players, particularly Zero Mostel in an early film role playing a highly nervous small-time crook.
Though director Bretaigne Windust's name graces the credits, it was an uncredited Raoul Walsh who was really responsible for the film's most suspenseful sequences. Walsh directed five days' worth of retakes and additional scenes, including the thrilling finale, and he was also probably responsible for the semi-documentary feel of the film - a popular stylistic approach which guided several other pictures of the time, including Walsh's own White Heat (1949).
Several days after the additional filming was done, Bogart was overheard at the 21 Club in New York dismissing the movie. As a frantic telegram to Jack Warner from his New York office stated, Bogart had announced "in a loud voice to everyone within earshot what a lousy picture Enforcer is. Ridiculous to try and arrange press interviews. He is only looking for trouble." This incident exacerbated the already heightened tension between the star and the studio. Their relationship deteriorated steadily for three more years, with Bogart rejecting bad scripts and enduring shabby treatment at the hands of Warner, until finally, on Sept. 21, 1953, Bogart was released from his contract.
Producer: Milton Sperling
Director: Bretaigne Windust, Raoul Walsh
Screenplay: Martin Rackin
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Film Editing: Fred Allen
Art Direction: Charles H. Clarke
Music: David Buttolph
Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Martin Ferguson), Zero Mostel (Big Babe Lazich), Ted de Corsia (Joseph Rico), Everett Sloane (Albert Mendoza), Roy Roberts (Capt. Frank Nelson), Michael Tolan (Duke Malloy).
BW-86m. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold