Abraham Polonsky Criticism - Essay

Evelyn Sager (review date 13 June 1943)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Aboard an Oil Tanker," in The New York Times Book Review, June 13, 1943, pp. 12, 14.

[In the following mixed review, Sager praises Polonsky's vivid descriptions and dramatic sensibilities, but finds The Enemy Sea anticlimactic at key moments.]

The merchant seaman has been rescued from his role of obscurity within the past year by several first-hand reports of terror, endurance and courage at sea. The stark facts of the hunt—the submarine stalking the slow, lumbering merchant fleet—need none of the artistry of fiction to supply color and climax.

Fiction, on the other hand, can deal with these same grim facts—as Abraham Polonsky...

(The entire section is 571 words.)

Bosley Crowther (review date 27 December 1948)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "At Loew's State," in The New York Times, December 27, 1948, p. 16.

[Crowther was an American film critic and journalist long associated with the New York Times. In the following positive review, he argues that Force of Evil reveals Polonsky as a director of "imagination and unquestioned craftsmanship."]

It may be that Force of Evil, which opened … on Christmas Day, is not the sort of picture that one would choose for Yuletide cheer. It's a cold, hard, relentless dissection of a bitter, aggressive young man who lets himself get in too deep as the lawyer for a "policy racket" gang. And as such it is full of vicious people with whom the...

(The entire section is 587 words.)

Frederic Morton (review date 3 June 1951)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Modern Mind," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review, June 3, 1951, p. 11.

[Morton is an Austrian-born American novelist, historian, biographer, critic, and educator. In the following mixed review, he finds that while The World Above is rich in evocative details and acute observations, Polonsky's characters become conduits for a dogmatic political philosophy that he feels overshadows the literary merits of the novel.]

[The World Above] is a huge, restless book attempting to give scope to the spiritual bafflement which has overtaken Western civilization today. Mr. Polonsky has charged—and partially smothered—his second novel with much of the...

(The entire section is 518 words.)

John Envers (review date August 1951)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The World Above, in The Canadian Forum, Vol. XXXI, No. 367, August, 1951, pp. 115-16.

[In the following mixed review of The World Above, Envers lauds Polonsky's descriptive capabilities but finds the novel stylistically inconsistent.]

If Mr. Polonsky has not written a best seller this time, it can hardly be ascribed to want of talent but rather to lack of economy and care. The World Above struck this reviewer like a badly edited manuscript, not quite ready for typesetting. The book has divergencies of style ("he didn't" and "he did not," both within the short space of a few lines; the exclamation "Agh!", so frequent during early passages, later turns into a humble "Ah!"); an occasional spelling error; faults in minor detail, which might easily irritate a reader acquainted with particular circumstances (an Englishwoman would never refer to an officer in the British Women's Force as "The Lieutenant"). On the other hand, there are memorable moments that surely rank with the very best descriptions in contemporary anthologies. These are, alas, generally followed by long and labored paragraphs, unfamiliar words limping behind each other. This novel has, indeed, all that is required to make it attractive to the public: war, violence, sexual inversion, the occasional profanity; it shows Freudian psychologists at work and play; it arranges for wives to jump into bed with men not their husbands; it usefully comments on our time and sometimes manages to instruct; finally, it is long and offers no conclusion or solution to the problems under discussion. In spite of this, [this critic] fully admits having enjoyed The World Above—not for what it attempts to be, but for what it is. With the mentioned provisos, the various emotional and actual adventures of Dr. Carl Myers make for good, usually absorbing entertainment. It is, however, suggested that the author re-issue this work after some conscientious checking and much cutting.

Abraham Polonsky with William Pechter (interview date Spring 1962)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Abraham Polonsky and Force of Evil," in Film Quarterly, Vol. XV, No. 3, Spring, 1962, pp. 47-54.

[In the following interview, which was conducted entirely through correspondence, Polonsky discusses the filming of Body and Soul, his adaptation and direction of Force of Evil, and his thoughts on the Blacklist and Hollywood's fear of Communists in the 1950s. In the essay that frames the interview, Pechter discusses Polonsky's career, focusing on Body and Soul and Force of Evil.]

In 1949, a writer, whose experience, with the exception of two previous screenplays and two unmemorable novels, had been primarily in radio, made an adaptation...

(The entire section is 5137 words.)

Abraham Polonsky with Eric Sherman and Martin Rubin (interview date November 1968)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An interview in The Director's Event: Interviews with Five American Film-Makers, Atheneum, 1970, pp. 3-37.

[Sherman is an American educator and screenwriter. In the following interview, conducted in November 1968, Polonsky discusses Force of Evil and Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here and reflects on being blacklisted by producers in Hollywood. In the introduction to the interview, Rubin compares the main themes and techniques of the two films.]

In 1948, a 39-year-old screenwriter and novelist named Abraham Polonsky directed his first film, Force of Evil. Soon after, he was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and...

(The entire section is 9752 words.)

Abraham Polonsky with James D. Pasternak and F. William Howton (interview date 1971)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An interview in The Image Maker, edited by Ron Henderson, John Knox Press, 1971, pp. 17-27.

[Pasternak is an American film director, screenwriter, and educator. Howton is an American sociologist and film critic. In the following interview, Polonsky discusses the impetus for making Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here and describes his career as a filmmaker before and after the blacklist.]

[Pasternak and Howton]: Tell us about your new project.

[Polonsky]: I have three. One of them is Childhood's End by Arthur Clarke, which Universal bought for my company to make into film. Another is an original screenplay by me called Sweet...

(The entire section is 7059 words.)

Jack Shadoian (essay date 1977)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Genre's 'Enlightenment', the Stress and Strain for Affirmation: Force of Evil (1948)," in Dreams and Dead Ends: The American Gangster/Crime Film, The MIT Press, 1977, pp. 134-48.

[Shadoian is an American critic and educator who has written extensively on various aspects of the cinema. In the following excerpt, he analyzes Force of Evil as an example of the gangster film, arguing that the conventions of the genre provide an apt framework for the main thematic focus of Polonsky's work, namely a critique of capitalism.]

After making this film [Force of Evil], his first, director Abraham Polonsky became a casualty of the blacklist, and he...

(The entire section is 5222 words.)

Larry Ceplair (review date 14 June 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Creative Forgetting," in The Nation, New York, Vol. 230, No. 23, June 14, 1980, pp. 730-31.

[In the following excerpt, which offers a mixed review of Zenia's Way, Ceplair argues that while the novel's narrator is intelligent and observant, the title character remains flat and one-dimensional.]

In his fourth novel, Zenia's Way (his first in thirty years), Polonsky explores the effects on two people, Ram and Zenia, of participation in six decades of political history. He juxtaposes two political events widely separated in time and place—a Palmer raid episode in New York City and a Palestine Liberation Organization raid in Israel—as a means of...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Terry Curtis Fox (review date 8-14 October 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Faith on the Left," in The Village Voice, Vol. XXV, No. 41, October 8-14, 1980, p. 49.

[Fox is an American playwright and screenwriter. In the following positive review of Zenia's Way, he describes the novel as "a true political tragedy."]

Abraham Polonsky is one of the most curious and compelling figures in the history of American film, a man who refuses to fit into any simple, definable mold. When he was blacklisted in the '50s, he had directed only a single film (Force of Evil) and was credited with only three scripts (Body and Soul among them). Perhaps for this reason, Polonsky did not—like Joseph Losey or Jules Dassin—go to Europe...

(The entire section is 643 words.)

Christine Noll Brinckmann (essay date 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Politics of Force of Evil: An Analysis of Abraham Polonsky's Preblacklist Film," in Prospects: The Annual of American Cultural Studies, Vol. 6, 1981, pp. 357-86.

[In the following excerpt, Brinckmann discusses the ways in which Force of Evil deviates from the traditional gangster film, manipulating the genre's conventions to emphasize its political theme, namely the critique of capitalist society. She argues that while the film balances politics with emotional and spiritual intensity, its thematic and formal complexity accounts for its lack of popularity with mass audiences. She also suggests that the film's most serious flaw is its inconsistent depiction of the...

(The entire section is 11959 words.)

Terence Butler (essay date Autumn 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Polonsky and Kazan: HUAC and the Violation of Personality," in Sight and Sound, Vol. 57, No. 4, Autumn, 1988, pp. 262-67.

[In the following excerpt from an essay in which he compares the works of Polonsky and Elia Kazan—who cooperated with Joseph McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), though he shared many of Polonsky's political ideals—Butler examines the main themes of Polonsky's works, focusing on Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here and Romance of a Horse Thief.]

Abraham Lincoln Polonsky was one of the many casualties of the House Un-American Activities Committee in Hollywood, Elia Kazan a self-justifying collaborator with the same...

(The entire section is 3199 words.)