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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Prison movies (and prison TV shows) are a genre unto themselves, and there are many genre requirements:
a good shiving
a good shanking
a machine-shop revenge-shiv-shanking (usu. w/ blow-torches)
lingering close-ups of cement
tastefully-filmed male rape (after 1970)
the insistent stage-whisper, "It's gotta be tonight!"
Well, Jules Dasin's Brute Force has almost all of the above. Burt Lancaster stars as Joe Collins, a hardened con in a cruel penal system who lives for only one hope: escape. Burt's nemesis is Captain Munsey, a sadistic guard played by Mr. Jessica Tandy himself, Hume Cronyn. Now, the very notion that Hume Cronyn could ever pose a physical challenge to Burt Lancaster is silly, so director Dasin wisely keeps them apart for most of the movie, until the extremely violent conclusion.
Lancaster shares a cramped cell with five other convicts, including Charles Bickford and Howard Duff (in his film debut). Their cell is adorned with a calendar featuring a picture of a girl so non-descript that each of the boys can see their own long-lost loves in her face, and we are treated to flashbacks showing how each of these losers got where he is today. Duff's flashback is the best while a soldier in Italy, he took the rap for a murder committed by his beautiful war-bride, Yvonne De Carlo. Howard Duff with an army-issue machine gun is but one example of how this movie goes above and beyond the usual prison fare.
The preachy scenes involving the prison's resident conscienceI mean doctorare worth fast-forwarding through (unfortunately those scenes are also genre requirements), and Burt tends to lapse into that sensitive Frankenstein acting that he does so well, but man, what a climax to this movie. It's this life's only opportunity to see a clench-teethed Hume Cronyn firing a gattling gun into an unarmed crowd.
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