Noirvember continues with Force of Evil (1948).

PAUSE IT: What do you see? Four successive shots from Abraham Polonsky’s poetic film noir classic Force of Evil. To quote just one line in this highly quotable film: “A man could spend the rest of his life trying to remember what he shouldn’t have said.” Pictured mob lawyer Joe Morse (John Garfield) has broken into a cold sweat as he wonders whether or not his office phone has been tapped by the authorities — Has he said more than he should have? Here, director Polonsky and cinematographer George Barnes use an expressionistic montage of varied shot sizes to create a psychological effect of fear and paranoia. But, how is this achieved? While shots can be organized into an endless amount of sub-categories, there exist four main shot sizes which have historically dominated film language. These are the closeup (roughly from the shoulders up), the medium shot (roughly from the waist up), the full shot (the entire body), and the wide shot (a shot which is framed to provide context of both a subject and its relationship to its surroundings). Each basic shot size has its own strengths and weaknesses and can be used to elicit varied emotional responses on the part of the viewer. But, it’s important here to note how, when pieced together, a sequence of varied shots sizes can be used to create a more dynamic, visually arresting story.

From left to right:
Still #1: Close-up (Joe Morse’s face fills with dread)
Still #2: Medium close-up (Joe Morse contemplates whether to pick up phone)
Still #3: Extreme close-up (phone and ear)
Still #4: Extreme close-up (Joe Morse’s eyes widen as he listens for the sound of a tapped line)

Force of Evil (1948)
Director: Abraham Polonsky
Cast: John Garfield, Thomas Gomez, Marie Windsor
Cinematography by: George Barnes

Available from Olive Films on DVD and Blu-ray