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Thursday, April 6, 2017

THE ENFORCER (1951)

Humphrey Bogart must have been awfully eager to wrap up his Warner Brothers contract; why else bother with this brutally inconsequential whimper of a police procedural? He’s a big city D.A. about to crack open a Murder-for-Hire racket when his star witness backs out . . . permanently. With the case going to court tomorrow, Bogie flashbacks his way thru four years of casework detailing how this Murder, Inc. went operational, with ‘blind’ assignments leaving no motive for police to hang a homicide on. Strictly cash, strictly random, strictly without personal links. But a misidentified victim offers half a chance to save his case as the intended target remains unharmed, and unaware of the danger she’s in. Can Bogart get to her before ‘they’ do. Not such a lousy idea, really, but nothing generates any heat or mystery. Everybody just going thru the motions under action-challenged megger Bretaigne Windust, and flummoxed by such baffling new terms as ‘contract’ & ‘hit.’ Really? Even at the time, how hard could it have been to suss them out? Bogart barely gets in one wimpy punch, but things perk up briefly for the final set piece, a race-to-the-rescue filmed out on location, backed by real Main Street small town storefronts. (Possibly helmed, as too the decent opening, by an uncredited Raoul Walsh.)

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Cinematographer Robert Burks, who gives the film a damp, dark sheen, its main redeeming feature, followed this up with another story playing on the possibilities of motiveless murder, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN/’51, first of his 12 with Alfred Hitchcock.

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