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At overcrowded Westgate Penitentiary, where violence and fear are the norm and the warden has less power than guards and leading prisoners, the least contented prisoner is tough, single-minded Joe Collins. Most of all, Joe hates chief guard Captain Munsey, a petty dictator who glories in absolute power. After one infraction too many, Joe and his cell-mates are put on the dreaded drain pipe detail; prompting an escape scheme that has every chance of turning into a bloodbath. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
When the Group Theater (1931-1940)--the first American acting company to attempt to put the Russian Konstantin Stanislavski's principles into action--disbanded, many of the actors who had participated in its revolutionary realistic productions on Broadway ("Awake and Sing" "Waiting for Lefty") made their way to Hollywood in search of work. Two of them--Roman Bohnen ("Warden") and Art Smith ("Dr. Walters")can be seen in this film. As several of the actors in The Group were members of the Communist Party or leftist organizations, they would soon be blacklisted during the "Red Scare" era of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's search for "subversives" in the entertainment industry, one of whom was the director of this film, Jules Dassin. A year before this film was released, Kazan--who had appeared before the McCarthyite House Unamerican Activities Committee and "named names", happened to be in Hollywood and saw a production of one of Tennessee Williams's early plays, "Portrait of a Madonna" directed by Hume Cronyn--who plays the sadistic Capt. Munsey in this film. Kazan was so impressed by the work of Cronyn's wife, Jessica Tandy, that he offered her the role of Blanche Dubois in his Broadway production of "A Streetcar Named Desire." See more »
During a scene in the cell, Jeff Corey's character is washing his hair. His hair alternates between lathered and not lathered. See more »
Powerful, dark drama. Great performance by Cronyn.
BRUTE FORCE This intense, powerful drama stars Burt Lancaster as Collins, a prisoner who's got to find a way out, and Hume Cronyn as the sadistic Captain Munsey, who delights in torturing the inmates. Cronyn is masterful -- cast wonderfully out of character, his slick, soft delivery takes on a skin-crawling menace. Lancaster is appropriately hard and driven, but the fact that he's breaking out to be by his dying girlfriend's side seems facile. The weakest elements of this film are the flashbacks to how his cellmates got locked up. (It seems obvious these scenes are contrived to introduce women into an otherwise all-male cast.) It turns out none of them are really bad guys except Lancaster, who appears to be some kind of gangster. We aren't given much insight into his character; we know he's smart and a leader, but he's clearly got a tendency toward violence. Ultimately, however, it's not about how they got there, but who they are when they get there. It's about what pushes a man past his breaking point and what happens after that. Weaknesses aside, this is a worthwhile, thought-provoking film with excellent performances all around.
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