Cast & Crew
Ted De Corsia
After patient investigation, Assistant District Attorney Martin Ferguson is ready to present his case against Albert Mendoza, reputed to be the head of a murder-for-hire ring. Joseph Rico, Ferguson's sole witness against Mendoza, is fearful for his life and suddenly decides not to testify. His fears seem justified when snipers outside Ferguson's office fire at Rico. A terrified Rico then tries to escape from the office and, in so doing, falls to his death. With his case against Mendoza broken, Ferguson and police captain Frank Nelson spend the night painstakingly going over old files, trying to construct the case: In a local police station, "Duke" Malloy hysterically claims "they made me kill my girl" and tells police that he had a contract to kill Nina Lombardo. When he fell in love with her and refused to carry out the hit, Tom "Philadelphia" Zaca, "Big Babe" Lazich and Smiley forced him to kill her. Realizing that he would be killed next, Malloy then ran away. Later, Malloy hangs himself in his cell. Nelson then hears that Zaca has been picked up and returned to the asylum to which he had been committed. From the attendants, the investigators learn that Zaca received a weekly packet of cigarettes from Olga Kirshen. After questioning, Olga directs them to Smiley's apartment, where they discover that he has been killed. Eventually, Nelson and Ferguson manage to track down Big Babe. When he refuses to talk, they use his wife and child to force him to testify. Big Babe tells the police that they received their contracts from Rico, who took orders from someone over the phone. Because the killers had no motive for the murder, they could not be traced. Then Ferguson learns that Thomas O'Hara has been shot. When Ferguson questions him in the hospital, O'Hara explains that he fingered Nina for Malloy: After a few weeks, Malloy, who has fallen in love with Nina, pays O'Hara to call Rico and tell him the contract has been filled. In retaliation for the deception, Nina and Malloy are killed, and a murder attempt is made on O'Hara. Nelson and Ferguson question Nina's roommate, Theresa Davis, who discloses that Nina had changed her name from Angela Vetto because of something that had happened to her father, Tony Vetto. A missing persons report on Vetto reveals that he once witnessed a murder. Then Ferguson and Nelson are called to the asylum because someone is trying remove Zaca against his will. After Ferguson promises Zaca safety in exchange for his testimony, he admits that under Rico's orders, he forced a barber to help kill Vetto, a cab driver who had recognized a man he had once seen commit a murder. Ferguson and Nelson obtain the address of the organization's undertaker, and he leads them to the marsh where he buried the bodies. A massive effort to identify the bodies ensues, but no connection between them can be found. As the police net draws closer, Rico offers to talk. He divulges that he witnessed the murder of the one man Mendoza killed himself, at the inception of his murder-for-hire racket. Rico and Mendoza are spotted leaving the scene by Vetto and his young daughter. With their deaths, no one can connect Mendoza to the killings. Ferguson and Nelson finish combing the case files in the early hours of the morning without uncovering anything that will convict the criminal. Ferguson then visits Mendoza in his cell and shows him pictures of his victims, hoping to spark feelings of guilt. When Mendoza sees Nina's photograph, he immediately calls his lawyer, who then gives another member of the organization a new contract. Meanwhile, listening a second time to a tape of Rico's confession, Ferguson realizes he mentioned Angela's blue eyes. Because Nina had brown eyes, Ferguson understands that O'Hara fingered the wrong woman, and Theresa is really Angela. In a tight race with the killers, Ferguson succeeds in getting to Theresa first. The killers are arrested, and Theresa agrees to testify against Mendoza.
Ted De Corsia
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
Who calls him?- Babe Lazich
If you're a good swimmer, you can ask the guy who found out, he's at the bottom of the river.- Philadelphia Tom Zaca
I don't know, sometimes I meet a guy and then I never see him again.- Joseph Rico
You think you can shut people up by killing them, but you're wrong. Maybe not in the courtroom but they'll be talkin' to you, Mendoza! At night when you're trying to sleep!- D.A. Martin Ferguson
C'mon, Miss Vetto. I want to see the look on Mendoza's face when he looks into those big blue eyes.- D.A. Martin Ferguson
(After looking in) He's smiling at me... (looks in again) Mendoza, call them off! I ain't gonna say nothin!- Joseph Rico
Rico! You're gonna talk! Do you hear me? It took 4 years to put him in that cell and when he walks out, he's going to the chair, and you're gonna put him there!- D.A. Martin Ferguson
After several days of filming, director Bretaigne Windust fell seriously ill and was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. Humphrey Bogart asked his old friend, director Raoul Walsh, to come in and shoot the picture until Windust recovered. Unfortunately, Windust was more seriously ill than most realized, and his recovery took several months, during which Walsh finished the film. However, Walsh refused to take screen credit for it, saying that the picture was Windust's big break and he wasn't going to take it away from him.
An early working title of the film was Murder, Inc. Although it is not mentioned in the film, some contemporary reviews state that The Enforcer is based on the exploits of Murder, Incorporated, the Brooklyn-based enforcement arm of a national crime syndicate that began in the 1930s. The selling point of Murder, Inc. was that a killer could be brought in from another town, kill a victim whom he would not know, and disappear, leaving the police without a motive or suspect. Under the rules, Murder, Inc. could only be used for mob business and was never to be used against politicians, reporters or prosecutors. As depicted in the film, it was Murder, Inc. that introduced the terms "contract" for killing and "hit" for the intended target. Murder, Inc. came under attack in the early 1940s when several minor members were arrested on suspicion of various murders. Abe Reles, higher up in the organization, decided to cut a deal and talk, but before he could testify, he fell, jumped or was pushed from the window of a hotel in which he was supposed to be under police protection.
According to a November 1949 Los Angeles Daily News article, producer Milton Sperling stated that the picture would "name names" and feature ex-employees of Murder, Inc. in minor parts. The article also reports that John Higgins was assigned to write the screenplay with Martin Rackin, and that Felix Feist was signed to direct. The extent of Higgins' contribution to the final film has not been determined. Contemporary reviews note that the film began with a foreword spoken by Senator Estes Kefauver, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee to Investigate Organized Crime. This foreword was not in the viewed print, but an excerpt taken from a January 21, 1951 New York Times article includes the following: "We Americans are proud of our record of law enforcement in most localities in the United States...The picture you are about to see deals with an assault upon society by one of the worst criminal elements in history...While these men killed and murdered for pay, they, like their predecessors, and they, like the ones who will come after them, were finally apprehended and completely destroyed. And they were destroyed legally, by relentless investigation, by the accumulation of direct evidence and vigorous prosecution. And this was done without denying them any of the rights that American citizens are guaranteed. This is how democracy has always met the enemy and this is how we shall always win." For more information about Kefauver's investigation, see the entry below for The Kefauver Crime Investigation.
An article in Cue states that director Bretaigne Windust used several attorneys who had prosecuted gangsters in the 1930s as technical advisors on the film. The Enforcer marked the first feature film appearance of actor Lawrence Tolan, who changed his name to Michael Tolan in 1952. The picture also marked Humphrey Bogart's last appearance in a Warner Bros. release. According to a March 9, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item, retired New Jersey police officer Herman Cantor filed suit against Warner Bros. and United States Pictures to recover a fee he claimed was due him for providing "the formula, the plot and the central dramatic core" of the film. The outcome of the lawsuit has not been determined.
Another film on the subject is the 1960 Twentieth Century-Fox production, Murder, Inc., which was directed by Burt Balaban and Stuart Rosenberg, and based on the book co-written by the prosecuting attorney for the Murder, Inc. crime syndicate case, Burton Turkus, and Sid Feder .
Released in United States Winter February 24, 1951
Began shooting August 30, 1950.
Raoul Walsh, though uncredited, was called in to finish directing the film.
Released in United States Winter February 24, 1951