By September '48, Harry Sherman had taken back
studio facilities and Enterprise
was down to skeletal staff of fifty to edit/post-produce Force Of Evil and
Caught. Improvements to the lot were forfeited to owners and hope hung on
whatever commercial prospects No Minor Vices/Force Of Evil/Caught had. Enterprisetold columnists
that a $300K loan would get them back in business, with banks holdingout until
they see what business the Metro releases will do. For its part, MGM stood loyal
despite uncertainty, as reflected by a "Leo Loves Enterprise" ad run
in 10-25-48 trades. Garfield and Roberts placed their own boost the same day,
positioning Bob Roberts Productions as "an active force in making good
pictures." Whatever confidence Metro lacked, they'd take charge, fully, of
Limits placed on mention of "rackets"
in print advertising did not extend to MGM's preview, so a call went out for
John Garfield to on-camera host an explanation of the numbers game and how it
worked. Trailer will be shown in theatres one week ahead of (the) regular
trailer for (the) film, said Variety. Unfortunately for later generations,
MGM's specially prepared glimpse, with Garfield's
unique footage, would not see light of day due to Force Of Evil's changing
ownership. Since Metro didn't TV-distribute the film, there were no trailers
for it printed on 16mm, and search among prior video releases, TCM's website,
and You Tube do not reveal it. Of all unaccounted-for previews, this one for
Force Of Evil ranksamong losses most keenly felt.
MGM warned exhibitors as to "numbers
racket" --- "a term you cannot use in theatre exploitation, advertising,
or publicity." But there were backdoors. Garfieldcould be sold as a "numbers
king," and "Lucky Number" contests were encouraged. Newspaper
plants weren't shy in revealing that a real-life numbers man served as"technical advisor" for the film, his identity a secret to all but
Garfield, his producer, and writer/director. Adherence to Code policy in fact
saw Force Of Evil merchandisers dancing on heads of promotional pins. Abraham
Polonsky complained from the beginning of a wreck censors made of his film,
calling the finished product fundamentally a failure. He said the ending,
resolves to assist law enforcement, was imposed on Force Of Evil. In fact, it's
not dissimilar to Marlon Brando turning informant at On The Waterfront'swrap.
Did this comparison further sour Polonsky's Force Of Evil rearview?
Much of the team, savePolonsky, attended opener
events in New York, Garfield in town for the latter half of
December to stir interest and prop up Force Of Evil's Christmas Day premiere at
Loew's State. Prior to that, he'd gone with Bob Roberts "to twenty key
cities where the numbers racket flourishes," according to trades, Force Of
Evil being screened before "forces of good" (Parent-Teacher
organizations, Better Business Bureaus). Gala was a first several weeks at
Loew's State (a "fancy" $44K in its first), biz buttressed by holiday crowds.
Trouble was attendance "dipping" after celebratory December,
elsewhere receipts doing a skid as well. Reviewers pointed out lack of gangster
thrilling expected of Garfield
and the theme. Ads saw gats blazing with JG in a siren's embrace, but the
latter as embodied by Marie Windsor was there for only a couple of scenes in
Force Of Evil.
Polonsky intended Force Of Evil to be a
"destructive analysis of the system," a reading far more embraced now
than then. Corruption from the bottom up was his Force-ful headline.
Small-timer Thomas Gomez gives a speech lamenting crime inherent even in the
garage and insurance businesses he used to be in. Again, these were realities
known well to go-getters of a precode era --- but characters then worried less
about fixes they knew were locked in. Did 1948-49 audiences figure Polonsky for
stating what to them was obvious? Anyhow, something was keeping biz away.
William Rodgers, chief of Metro's east coast selling, wondered why receipts overall were
so unsettled, expressing wonder that first-runs, even of films
considered to be good, were returning barely enough to cover production
costs. MGM features averaged 14,500 bookings as of 1948's end --- Rodgers
sought 17,000 for a coming25th Anniversary year. Toward that, he'd look
forward to solid prospect of Command Decision, Words and Music, and The Three
Musketeers, all with potential Force Of Evil seemed so far to lack.
Did Metro marketers let Force Of Evil wilt? I
found little trade support. This wasn't their picture after all. There's no
indication of MGM sharing Force's production expense, their pay-off a
distribution fee (25-30% of the gross a usual arrangement) plus prints and
advertising.Final tallies on Force Of Evil reflected a public's (if not Metro)
indifference. There was $948,000 in domestic rentals and $217,000 foreign for a
worldwide $1.165 million total. Against the negative cost of $1.15 million, and
factoring out MGM's distribution fee, this would have been a tough loss for Enterpriseand Bob
Roberts Productions. As to a future for Enterprise,
there was none. The company struck a January 1949 deal with MGM for a fourth
feature the major would release, The Third Secret, to be directed by Lewis
Milestone, but by April, that deal was cancelled, owing to monies
Milestone/Enterprise couldn't raise and the February release ofCaught, which
did worse even (a worldwide $776K) than Force Of Evil.
Many Thanks to Dr. Karl Thiede for valuable info on Force Of Evil.