Humphrey Bogart stars in this taut mystery-thriller as a district attorney trying to keep a terrified witness alive until he can testify against the ringleader of a hit-squad. The Enforcer is largely told through a series of flashbacks told by various members of the hit squad — usually proximate to their untimely demises. That sort of movie is entertaining enough, but The Enforcer is also book-ended with real-time sequences that feel more like scenes out of a contemporary crime thriller than a movie from the early ’50s.
Bogey’s character isn’t terribly developed, but his star power engages us nonetheless. Ted de Corsia gives the most charismatic performance as the villainous second-in-command. De Corsia is the frightened witness-in-custody at the beginning of the film. But when Bogey mulls over the case history, De Corsia becomes an intimidating man of few words to the lackeys under his command. Zero Mostel and Tito Vuolo are also memorable as, respectively, a nervous first-time assassin and a cocky senior gang member who makes the mistake of falling in love with one of his targets.
Directors Bretaigne Windust and Raoul Walsh keep this eighty-five minute procedural moving at an entertaining pace, with no tacked-on romances or extraneous subplots to clutter the way. Between the colorful character portrayals, suspenseful set-pieces, and creepy flashbacks, The Enforcer is a film noir potboiler that delivers.