Brute Force (1947) Poster

(1947)

User Reviews

Review this title
70 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
7/10
Striking '40's Prison Drama.
jpdoherty30 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Universal International's BRUTE FORCE is without doubt one of the finest prison pictures ever made. Outstandingly directed by Jules Dassin this brutal brooding and dark drama, has never been, or is ever likely to be, equaled. Produced for the studio in 1947 by Mark Hellinger the stunning black & white cinematography by William Daniels, together with his amazing use of light and shade, perfectly highlighted the bleak grimness of being shut away on the "inside" where injury and death lurks from every crevice of the thick walls. Based on a story by Robert Patterson it was turned into a brilliant screenplay by Richard Brooks and composer Miklos Rozsa once again supplied one of his high octane tension filled scores.

Hardened convict Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) is a "lifer" in the maximum security prison of Westgate Penitentiary. Together with his old boss Gallagher (Charles Bickford) - who is also doing time as the prison's newspaper editor - he plans an elaborate escape. But tyrannical head guard Captain Munsey (a brilliant Hume Cronyn) suspects a breakout is afoot and will go to any lengths to prevent it. In one intensely harrowing sequence in his office he interrogates inmate Louie Miller (Sam Levene) about the impending escape and savagely beats him with a hosepipe as Wagner's Tannhauser plays full volume on the phonograph. But Louie endures and tells him nothing. However through another informant Munsey learns the date and time of the escape and prepares his guards accordingly to thwart the breakout. With Collins getting even with the "stoolie" the picture ends in a bloody and vicious battle between the guards and convicts with many deaths on each side including Collins and Munsey who have it out in a climactic and spectacular fight atop the gate tower.

The acting is nothing short of superb! In only his second movie (after Hellinger's "The Killers" the previous year) Lancaster is especially good as the recalcitrant and difficult Collins ("You're not fit for civil life and you won't accept prison life" Munsey chides him.) Good too is Charles Bickford, Roman Bohnen as the weak and ineffectual Warden and really excellent is Art Smith as the kindly but perpetually hammered prison doctor ("Yes Capt. Munsey - I'm just a very ordinary man. I get drunk on whiskey but you sir - you get drunk on power".) But there's little doubt the picture belongs to Cronyn. In a powerful portrayal of the highest degree he simply chews up every bit of scenery there is as the sadistic and dictatorial Captain Munsey. Also of note is the score by the great Miklos Rozsa. Almost eclipsing his music for "The Killers" his brooding score here pinpoints the seediness and the ever present potential for danger and death within the prison. His sombre main theme, heard in its broadest rendition under the titles, is a slow dirge-like piece reflecting the despair and hopelessness of those incarcerated in a high security establishment. BRUTE FORCE is one of the composer's best noir scores.

The picture only has one drawback - the various and needless flashbacks depicting the women in some of the prisoner's lives. These scenes are merely padding and quiet unnecessary. They do nothing really for the movie except break the atmospheric continuity that already had been so well achieved and established. But thankfully they don't last very long and they make up what is only a minor quibble and does not prevent BRUTE FORCE remaining one of the finest gems from Hollywood's golden past.
31 out of 33 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Prison Noir!
Spikeopath22 January 2009
This is Westgate Penitentiary, the Warden is a weak man, the prison is practically run by the cruel and highly ambitious Captain Munsey. But the prisoners are no walk overs, they deal their own justice to those that don't tow the line, tired and fed up of mistreatment, and fuelled by the Munsey influenced suicide of a popular inmate, the prisoners, led by big Joe Collins, plot a break out, the fear of failure not even an option.

Brute Force is a cracking moody picture directed with innovation by Jules Dassin and starring Burt Lancaster (brilliant as Joe Collins), Hume Cronyn (Munsey), Charles Bickford (Gallagher) and lady support (shown in excellent flashbacks) from Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth, Ella Raines and Anita Colby. We open in the pouring rain at the monolithic gates of Westgate Penitentiary, Dassin's camera looking up at the gate like some foreboding warning, William Daniels black and white photography is stark and making its point, all this as Miklos Rozsa's score thunders in our ears, it's clear that this is going to be a mean and moody prison picture.

So it proves to be, sure all the formula traits that lace most prison films are in here, but Dassin and his team have managed to harness an oppressive feel to put us the viewer within the walls of Westgate as well. This is a bleak place, there are six men to a prison cell, their only chance of staying sane is memories of loved ones and a unified spirit to not be put upon by the vile Munsey, we are privy to everything, we ourselves are part of the furniture. Brute Force thankfully doesn't disappoint with its ending, the tension has been built up perfectly, the mood is set, so when the ending comes it's explosive and a truly fitting finale to what has been a first rate prison drama. 9/10
15 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Nobody Can Ever Escape From the Prison
claudio_carvalho2 September 2007
In the Westgate Penitentiary, the Warden A. J. Barden (Roman Bohnen) is a weak man, and the institution is actually ruled by the ambitious and sadistic Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyon), who uses violence, fear and treachery to control the prisoners. After the suicide of Tom Lister (Whit Bissell), one of the inmates of cell R17, provoked by Captain Munsey, the prisoners loses their privileges and rest of the group of cell R-17 leaded by Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) is sent to hard and insalubrious work in the drain pipe. Joe uses a successful strategy of war trying to escape, attacking the tower of the penitentiary from the outside with his men, and from inside with the team leaded by the leader Gallagher (Charles Bickford). However, the plan fails, ending in a bloodshed.

Sixty years after the original release date, "Brute Force" is still a great movie of prison. The story is very well constructed, with flashbacks showing the connection of three inmates with his women. The violence is not explicitly disclosed like in the present days, but the cruelty of Captain Munsey can be understood even by the most naive viewer. The direction of Jules Dassin is outstanding with many memorable scenes. Yvonne De Carlo has a minor participation, but a strong role. The moralist message in the end, when Dr. Walters (Alt Smith) tells that nobody can escape from penitentiaries, does not spoil this great movie. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Brutalidade" ("Brutality")
21 out of 26 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Brute Force is a knockout!
bscowler30 October 2004
I've read recent reviews of this film that condemn it for being "outdated" or not "relevant". Um, hello? This movie is is fifty-seven years old! As such, we are treated to typical 1940s Hollywood stereotypes and acting methods, not to mention references to the recently completed war. Yet, even within the pitfalls of the studio system, this film shines as a great example of film noir.

Director Jules Dassin is brilliant with light, and sets the example for the French "new wave" of cinema. Lighting Burt Lancaster from the side, or from underneath, makes him and the other actors look almost surreal.

Most of the dialogue is "clipped" and preposterous, but films from this era often suffer from this same problem. Yet "Brute Force" retains its original power simply by virtue of the dynamite performances, the stirring score, and the gritty techniques of Dassin.

I had to smile during the scene where Hume Cronyn's character turns up the Wagner on his hi-fi so the guards outside his door won't hear the inmate he's about to beat scream. This was mimicked during David Lynch's ground-breaking TV series "Twin Peaks" when a character turned up his radio before he beat his wife. Of course beating people isn't funny, but seeing obvious references in cinema is always a kick.

I highly recommend "Brute Force" to anyone who appreciates the art of film, great directing, and fine performances.
39 out of 52 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Nothing's OK! Never was ,never will!
dbdumonteil26 February 2006
One of the best prison movies ever made.Jules Dassin's direction is so strong ,so precise,so mind-boggling it packs a real wallop.Hume Cronyn gives a subdued but extremely scary portrayal of a sadistic brute.Always in a suave voice,always saying "I want to help you",there's only one way for him:the hard one.Burt Lancaster is equally efficient as a tough inmate .But the whole cast cannot be too highly praised.

The cast and credits read :"the women from outside" .There are four flashbacks which really fit into the movie.All of them last barely two or three minutes but they could provide material for four other movies. The first one (Flossie's ) verges on farce ,it is the comic relief of a desperate movie and we need it!Then the "fur coat" segment which is some kind of Cinderella turned film noir.The third one,perhaps the less interesting (everything is relative!), features Yvonne De Carlo as an Italian girl during the war the former soldier was in love with .And finally Burt Lancaster's story, he tries to find money to pay his girlfriend's operation.

These flashbacks are not gratuitous:all that is left to those men is memories .Besides,the last line tells us something like that:"nobody will escape!nobody!" More than ten years before ,Dassin had shown what French director Jacques Becker would do in his famous prison movie "le trou" (1960) : the prison as a metaphor of the human condition.

There are lots of scenes which will leave you on the edge of your seat.My favorite scene: the informer's death while Lancaster is securing his alibi with the doc.But the final is awesome too,something apocalyptic.
27 out of 37 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Powerful, dark drama. Great performance by Cronyn.
KimB-326 February 1999
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.
28 out of 39 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Check the attempted breakout!
alydar211 April 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Ok, ok, I will give away a tad bit of the ending here, but not much. This movie builds decently towards the eventual climactic ending. But wow, what an ending!

Rewind and check the camera shot of Burt giving the go-ahead to begin the escape, and see Jeff Corey (the fink) tied to the front of the tram (and thus first to take the machine gun bullets).

Also don't miss the smoke that comes out the back of Jeff Corey's shirt as he is riddled with those bullets. And it takes a quick eye to catch the guard's shotgun blast actually pierce part of the iron cell bar as he kills Duff from above. How about the bleeding bullet hole in Burt's back as he fights with his new warden? And the strength he shows when tossing him off the tower. The small stuff helps the realism of this oldie!

Burt, you were so cool! I wish you had accepted the Ben Hur and Patton role you were offered!
20 out of 27 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Ahead of It's Time
BJJ-219 September 2003
For the era it was made(late 1940's),BRUTE FORCE is surprisingly brutal and vicious in places,pre-dating similar antics from James Cagney two years later in WHITE HEAT. The majority of Hollywood prison movies seem to have riots in them and this is no exception,but BRUTE FORCE has arguably the most explosive of the lot,with tear gas,shootings,and killings galore. Mind you,with a warder as brutal as Hume Cronyn(who sadly died recently)in charge,it's no wonder.His psychological bulling of mild-mannered inmate Whit Bissell leads to the former's suicide,and savage beating of Sam Levene results in near death. The misery,waste,and isolation of prison life is well observed here,with fine performances all round,but especially from Cronyn and Jeff Corey,as a cringing,cowardly informer,both of whom incur the rage of the intense Burt Lancaster.
20 out of 29 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
A Film Most Disturbing
bkoganbing25 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Burt Lancaster in his career made two classic prison story films, Brute Force and Birdman of Alcatraz. Both have their share of fans. Birdman though is much longer and it is solely about Lancaster and his long incarceration. In Brute Force Lancaster heads a good ensemble cast and it is as much about the incarcerators as well as the incarcerated.

One of the things that can't be overlooked about prison films and in this case Brute Force does is that all kinds of anti-social folk go into prison. Just why are they there? Notice there seem to be no sex crime perpetrators in the population, not a realistic picture by any means. Or any narcotics offenders among them either and that was changing right around the time Brute Force was made.

Still director Jules Dassin gets some great performances out of his cast. From the jailer's point of view, the politics of the penal system never got as good a portrayal until Robert Redford's Brubaker came along over 30 years later. I like the performances of weak and burned out warden Roman Bohnen, the alcoholic doctor Art Smith and of course Hume Cronyn who got his career role out of this film.

Once seen you will not forget Hume Cronyn as Captain Munsey. He is a type who unfortunately is attracted to corrections work, a brutal sadist who probably tortures animals in his spare time. Now that is not an indictment of all prison guards not by any means. Still people like that do make their way into that line of work.

Which raises an interesting question. Being a corrections officer is one of the toughest jobs going. You are in fact going outnumbered among a group of very antisocial people and going among them unarmed. For your own survival you have to establish a reputation for toughness and fast. Bearing the necessity for that in mind, is there a point where that job will turn you into a Captain Munsey?

Brute Force coming out as it did post World War II with the holocaust discovery fresh in everyone's mind is disturbing and terrifying. How easy is it to slide in brutality when you have that kind of authority over people? I think that's the question director Jules Dassin is asking of his audience.

The coordinated prison break at the climax of the film still almost sixty years later still has a powerful jolt to it. With the odds very much stacked against them the men still do it, even after they know they've been informed on. You won't forget it or Brute Force.
20 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Brutality, Futility & Despair
seymourblack-14 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This powerful drama is totally uncompromising and provides a convincing account of what life is like in a prison which is being run in a particularly brutal and autocratic manner. The consequence for the inmates is that they live in an oppressive and overcrowded environment where hard labour, poor quality food and harsh treatment are the norm. Furthermore, they are also subjected to a cruel system which leads to many of them being abused, tortured or even killed as a result of actions taken by the officials in charge.

As well as the extreme brutality that they experience, the prisoners also suffer the deep level of despair which comes from the knowledge that there's absolutely nothing they can do to improve their circumstances, as even the prospects for rehabilitation and parole are taken away from them. The sheer desperation of these men who can't get away from either their pasts or their current tribulations inevitably creates a need for an escape plan to be developed and Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster), the leader of the convicts in cell R17 is a man who has more reasons than most for wanting to get out.

Joe is released from a spell in solitary at the same time as the body of one of his cell-mates (who was a victim of the regime's evil practices) is being taken away from the prison. Joe's wheelchair bound wife is also suffering from a life threatening illness and is not prepared to go ahead with the urgent surgery she needs unless Joe is with her. He wants Gallagher (Charles Bickford), who is the editor of the prison newspaper, to help with the organisation of a breakout but Gallagher refuses because he believes that he has a chance of being given parole in the near future.

The prison Warden's methods are criticised by his superiors and he's swiftly replaced by Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn) who is the sadistic Chief Guard whose lust for power has finally won him the top job. The practices that Munsey puts into operation to achieve greater discipline include the indefinite suspension of parole hearings and this leads to Gallagher changing his mind and getting on board with the attempt to escape.

Dr Walters (Art Smith) is the ageing prison physician who drinks too much and despairs about the amount of brutality that he sees. When he openly accuses Munsey of torturing the prisoners, he gets struck to the floor by his disdainful colleague in an act which highlights both Munsey's intolerance and his pleasure in inflicting pain.

The escape plan is eventually put into action but because Munsey had already been tipped off by one of the inmates, the element of surprise is lost and what follows turns out to be an incredibly violent full scale riot with the men on both sides suffering a huge number of injuries and fatalities and the whole endeavour proving to be an absolute failure.

The characters in this story are very memorable. Joe is tough, full of controlled anger and completely focused on what he wants to achieve. Munsey is vicious, merciless and manipulative as he fosters and uses a network of informers and even uses psychological methods which, in one case, leads to an inmate's suicide. Gallagher's discretion, integrity and diplomacy gain him the respect of both the guards and the convicts and Dr Walters is a humanitarian whose disenchantment with the system is profound. Lancaster and Cronyn are outstanding in their roles and the performances of the rest of the cast are also consistently good.

The allegorical nature of the story is strong as it shows Munsey as a dictatorial monster who plays Wagner recordings as he tortures a helpless prisoner and some of the Nazi imagery is also quite striking. Bearing in mind the timing of the movie's release and the political leanings of its director, none of this is particularly shocking. What is more surprising is how this kind of depiction of the prison's officials was sanctioned under the strict censorship constraints which were in force at the time.

"Brute Force" isn't a story of good guys and bad guys as not all the guards are bad and clearly not all the convicts are good. Both groups are perpetrators of appalling brutality as the prisoners' punishment of stool pigeons provides a couple of the most sickeningly cruel scenes in the film. What it really illustrates most strongly is how much hopelessness the people in the institution feel, how futile the self perpetuating brutality is and how inevitable it is that (to quote the philosophical Dr Walters) "nobody escapes, nobody ever really escapes".
6 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Hume Cronym's Best Remembered Role Before Old Age
theowinthrop12 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Tonight Turner Classic Films were showing five films in honor of actor writer Hume Cronym (whose birthday is July 18). Cronym has only been dead now for five years, but he was an impressive character actor in comedy and in drama. I was lucky twenty years ago to see the Broadway production of THE PETITION a two person play Cronym played with his wife and partner Jessica Tandy, and I can vouch he was a crisp and fine a performer on stage as he was in his films.

Captain Muncey is one of the most detestable villains in motion pictures, turning his prison into a private torture chamber, with the apparent acquiescence of his guards (note Ray Teal, his personal guard and assistant). He has his way in the prison due to the weakness of the burned out warden Roman Bohman and the bullying of a political hack from the Governor's office (Richard Gaines) who is impressed by Muncey's claims of the need for discipline. But as the wise but alcoholic doctor (Art Smith) points out, while discipline has a place the Warden has never given an order to Muncey telling him to crucify the prisoners.

It's a rather pitiful prison system we see here, and sad to say it remains a problem. The warden keeps bemoaning his failure to come to grips with rehabilitation and punishment, but he has no real suggestions in him, and he is really more upset about what he will do when he is forced out for the rest of his life. The doctor tries to give a degree of humanity to the prisoners lives (interestingly enough, like the alcoholic doctor played by Dudley Digges in MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY), but he is aware that he has no place to work outside the prison he is in either. Muncey, in fact, taunts him as a surgical butcher, suggesting something he did went terribly wrong. Muncey and his guards seem to fall into dominating and assaulting the prisoners at the drop of a hat. When Whit Bissell is walked into accidentally by Cronym in the lunchroom, Teal starts clubbing him until even Cronym points out it was his own fault not Bissell's. Only at one late point in the film, when Cronym is beating up Sam Levene in his locked office, do we see some of the guards react - but none intervene.

The film (well directed by noir specialist Jules Dassin) follows the last week of Cronym's system before it collapses. There have been increasing numbers of prisoners dying because Cronym has purposely put them into unsanitary and deadly work, especially in the main drains of the prison. One prisoner, Burt Lancaster, has refused to crack so far (he has been put in solitary due to a "shiv" being planted on him, with the connivance of Cronym and Teal). He returns to his cell and the prisoner who was the collaborator on this is killed later on in a stunningly good scene in the prison workshop. Lancaster is determined to escape and learns from a dying prisoner that there is a route through the drain. It has to be used in a timed escape that requires a riot in the prison yard and the use of an armed truck. To coordinate Lancaster need the help of the prison trustee (Charles Bickford), but the latter is up for parole.

Lancaster plans the escape with his cell mates (Howard Duff - in his first film, John Hoyt, Whit Bissell, Jack Overman, and Jeff Corey). In the course of their discussions they each tell stories about their lives, showing that the economic forces of the world frequently force them into crime (Bissell embezzles to help him and his wife; Duff takes the blame for a murder his wife - Yvonne De Carlo - committed to help him when he was being arrested for giving food to the Italians in the war; Hoyt, a colorful confidence man, is robbed with his own gun of the proceeds of a swindle and a visit to the gambling tables by an attractive woman who also steals his car; Lancaster has been keeping his crippled, cancer ridden wife (Ann Blythe) from knowing he is a criminal and prisoner). One gets a feeling that these men did not have to become criminals but were forced into it.

This is the weakness of the film, forgetting how many criminals in prison deserve to be in prison for their actions. As was pointed out in another review on this thread, there are sexual criminals who we never see, and the ones sentenced to death (the film is set in 1947) are never even mentioned. Nor are problems among male or female prisoners in their own prisons dealing with sexual predators among their fellow prisoners (and the guards sometimes). However, one can safely say that no prisoner deserves a set of guards controlled by an ego-maniacal sadist like Cronym's Muncey.

The film was shot shortly after World War II, so it is notable that Muncey likes to play Wagnerian music (so long established as music for Nazis) in his office. In fact, when he beats Sam Levene in his office he has the Wagner music playing loudly to drown Levene's screams (oddly enough the music is not from the "RING" Cycle, but from TANNHAUSER, and it is the "Venusburg" music which was supposed to be sensual!). Still the film shows the cruel, power-mad Captain as an unforgettable villain. He is as aware at the end of Lancaster's plans as he can be - but he is also aware of the warning Art Smith gives him - that power mad people end up being destroyed by their power. In his last few moments (as one sees in the film) Captain Muncey does find out how true this comment is.
6 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Classic Movie!!
ronevickers4 July 2008
Without a shadow of a doubt, Brute Force is a classic movie that still stands today, as a powerful piece of film-making. Everything about this movie is top notch - the acting, the direction, the cinematography, the pacing are all essential ingredients in this superb film. Although there's not a weak link in the entire film, special mention must go to Burt Lancaster, Art Smith, John Hoyt, Charles Bickford, Sam Levene, and Hume Cronyn as the evil & sadistic Munsey. The deft touch of Jules Dassin is there for all to see, and the film builds to a tremendous climax. In 1947 this must have been an extremely powerful and hard-hitting film, and it remains so to this day. For anyone who appreciates movie-making at its best, this is hard to beat.
11 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Brief review
boris-269 November 1998
Burt Lancaster and cellmates plot a daring breakout. Okay, sounds like a thousand other prison movies, but what makes this the top of the prison genre are the elements. Watching the characters in this gem is like staring down a cobra- they're so fascinating. There are the unique cellmates: meak accountant Whit Bissell driven over the edge, a learned, elder prisoner (Charles Bickford) the tough Burt Lancaster, etc. etc. Most memorable is Hume Cronyn (his greatest film performance) as the soft spoken, neat-nick psychotic Captain Munsey, a prison official who takes so much delight in beating prisoners, he plays his favorite music and strips to his t-shirt during beatings! Grand screenwriting by future director Richard Brooks. Cellmates have only one wall decoration, a picture of a glamour girl. She reminds each cellmate of a different woman who caused them to do time. The dialog crackles loudly: (Sample- Bickford to Lancaster about a cellmate plotting a break: "He said next Tuesday is the day of the break. He's been saying that about every Tuesday for the last twelve years. Twelve years from now, he'll be saying the same thing....") Hey Universal, put this wonderful classic on VHS!
9 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
5/10
overly sentimental
funkyfry25 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I didn't find this to be a bad film at all, but based on my previous viewings of Jules Dassin's movies I found the style of this one to be surprisingly sentimental and melodramatic. I think the extent of our identification with the character played by Burt Lanchaster was too great, he's far too much of a "hero" for the film to be really interesting.

Nonetheless there are a lot of interesting elements here. Hume Cronyn's performance is definitely a brave one and a very effective one. There's a kind of pettiness that hangs about him that makes his sadistic guard captain very chilling and at the same time convincing. For example, he fancies himself an expert at torture but doesn't manage to get good information from the one suspect we see questioning, nor does his treatment of the Lancaster character result in the kind of intimidation he images it will. And the way he's dressed down by Art Smith's character (by the way, Smith deserved much higher billing relative to his importance in the film) makes him seem very vulnerable.

The thing I most disliked in the movie though was the flashback sequences which made the whole affair seem corny. All of them deal with women who the men in prison have left on the outside, and all of these guys are basically angelic in the flashbacks. There's one with a guy stealing supplies for his Italian girlfriend. And then there's Lancaster's which is saved for the end, the most ridiculous of all because he's got a woman in a wheelchair who he's trying to save from some disease. It was like the most horrid kind of 1800s melodrama stuck into a supposedly hard edged prison movie.

Jules Dassin did a good job of making the movie and all the actors played their parts very well, but the thing was undone from the beginning by that script which called for undue sentiment. I didn't think it made it a truly bad film, but it's a very mixed bag to me and I'm surprised it's been hailed by so many as a "hard boiled" film.
8 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
6/10
a deeply strange movie
paulet17 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
(POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD)

"Brute Force" is a prison drama, directed by Jules Dassin, who was soon thereafter blacklisted in Hollywood, went abroad, made "Rififi," married Melina Mercouri, made "Never on Sunday" etc. etc. "Brute Force" dates from 1947, a moment when the Stalinist line on the arts was taking a particularly sharp turn toward the crudest formulas--in that year there was a sharp debate in the CPUSA's cultural magazine, Masses and Mainstream, between the screenwriters Albert Maltz and John Howard Lawson (both of whom later served time in Federal prison as members of the Hollywood Ten) over whether art must always be viewed as a weapon in class struggle. (Maltz suggested maybe not, Lawson insisted yes; the dispute was eventually closed by a declaration from V.J. Jerome that Lawson was right, and Maltz was obliged to engage in "self-criticism" for his Browderite errors.)

So here's Burt Lancaster as prisoner "Joe Collins" (and if the assonance of that name is an accident then I am the Grand Duchess Anastasia.) In a back story we learn that he's serving time for organizing bank robberies (students of Stalin's biography, or legend, please note); now he's masterminding a mass escape. The prison warden (Hume Cronyn), made up to look uncannily like Goebbels, struts around his office in jodhpurs and a black Sam Browne belt; when he gets ready to torture a prisoner for information, though, he strips to the waist--no, I'm not making this up--and puts on a recording of Wagner.

Then we have Charles Bickford, editor of the prison newspaper and clearly cast as the voice of misguided reformism; he opposes the prison break, arguing that publicizing the warden's brutality will eventually win better conditions, but is cruelly betrayed, and comes to see the wisdom of Collinsism. Jeff Corey plays one of Lancaster's subordinates but shows his true colors in a key scene: when Lancaster asks the others what position they want to take up in the actual breakout, Corey answers "I'll go last, to cover our back," which sounds plausible until you realize that the others all give the only right answer, which is "Wherever you want me, Joe." Of course Lancaster immediately grasps that Corey is the traitor, presumably because he displays the capacity for independent thought, and so indeed it proves.

Wait, there's more. There is only one Black prisoner, whose job in the joint is to sweep the floors; known as Calypso (I *swear* I'm not making it up) he sings all his dialog in rhymed couplets. And there's the prison doctor, the spineless petit-bourgeois intellectual, who sympathizes with the prisoners but is bullied into inaction by the warden; he drinks and utters despairing commentary.

Pervading this tale is a misogyny so deep and unquestioned that the filmmakers would probably have been astonished to have it pointed out to them. Yet all the prisoners whose stories we learn are there essentially because of the perfidy, greed, lust, or other vices of women in their lives--all except for Joe, who in a scene calculated to induce whiplash smoothly exits a long black getaway car to a house with a white picket fence, where dwells his sweetheart--a crippled girl, in a wheelchair, her nether parts covered by a thick plaid blanket. He swoops her up in his strong arms and carries her about, doll-like, while she squeals with delight--she is, in other words, completely desexualized and infantile, the only kind of woman (the script seems to be saying) that a man can trust.

The square-up is the ancient device whereby dubious themes or images are cleansed in the last few minutes by some clumsy explanation: it was all a dream, or the lurid images had a sober educational purpose, or some such. But what's the square-up in a Stalinist parable? It's a noir dead end! The prison break goes off the rails, the warden gets his fiery come-uppance but the prisoners don't get out, the state cops retake control with great bloodshed, and the prison doctor gets the last word: "They didn't escape. No one ever escapes." In short Hollywood endorses this bleak Sartrean view by way of trumping the rest of the movie's pitch for the wisdom of Comrade Collins.
18 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Burt Lancaster-Hume Cronyn Celebrity Deathmatch
dbost-21 September 2000
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 conscience––I mean doctor––are 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.
21 out of 38 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
4/10
Grim
evening11 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Burt Lancaster has great stage presence, and it's interesting to see how the other prisoners pay obeisance to him, but most of this movie made me want to escape from it.

Hume Cronyn's sadistic prison guard was so repulsive I finally had to fast-forward through the scene in which he pummeled a handcuffed inmate.

Did anyone else find it peculiar that each of the plotters had weird relationships with women? One is hoodwinked by a moll, another goes to jail for trying to buy his wife's love with a stolen mink coat, yet another takes the rap for a father-killer, and Burt lusts after a lady in a wheelchair.

I did admire the performance of Art Smith as an alcoholic prison doctor who may simultaneously have been an inmate (it wasn't really clear).

This exceedingly odd film is definitely not a date movie.
5 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Film-Noir without femme fatale
og_swifty15 November 2016
One of several great noirs directed by Jules Dassin, a man who's views gained him exclusive place on (in)famous Hollywood blacklist (which later met the representative of Dr. Walters as well). The film was shocking in its time for violent scenes and the depiction of the chief of the prison as a sadistic bastard (which is normal phenomenon nowadays).

I personally enjoyed flashbacks of prisoners from cell R17, because it was nice and quick overview of their "destinies" and it was also some room for femininity in the movie - bringing the beauty of Ann Blyth, Yvonne de Carlo, Ella Raines and Anita Colby.

Burt Lancaster really fit in the role of Joe and Hume Cronyn really reminded me Percy from Green Mile - the only difference was that Munsey was not so cocky...
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
I Gotta Get Outta Here!
rmax30482325 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This story of the half-dozen inmates in Cell R17 of a prison that looks something like Sing Sing is pretty earthy stuff. What a cast. Burt Lancaster is the leader of the attempt to break out. The other cell mates include Jeff Corey, Howard Duff, and Whit Bissell, and John Hoyt -- who was the Martian with three arms in a "Twilight Zone" segment, as well as Decius Brutus in MGM's "Julius Caesar". Charles Bickford is the prison's newspaper editor and Sam Levene is the prison reporter.

On the staff side of the cast list, Roman Bohnen is the weak-willed prison warden, Jay C. Flippen and Roy Teal are corrections officers, and Hume Cronyn is superb as the Captain of the Guards.

I kept thinking how easily this could have been a film about Stalags or concentration camps in World War II Germany. Escape is hopeless. (The code in 1947 would never have permitted a successful escape from prison.) And Cronyn is a kind of Nazi figure. He's smooth and ingratiating when necessary but his real character is revealed during a hair-raising scene in which he tries to get Sam Levene to spill the beans about the escape plans. Cronyn interrogates Levene and taunts him, while Wagner is playing on the phonograph. When Levene isn't forthcoming, Cronyn pulls down the shades, dismisses the witnesses, and begins beat the handcuffed Levene with a rubber hose.

The inmates are all essentially good guys. Flashbacks fill in their back stories. They were either dumb and impulsive or committed a crime to help their marriages or to get money for a girl friend's operation. Either the writer didn't know much about inmate culture or that culture has changed a great deal in the years intervening since its release.

At one point, the weakling warden has an interesting, if brief, exchange with the placid Cronyn. Cronyn remarks, "You set the rules, but I have to enforce them." He's right about his awkward position. He belongs to a class that the sociologist Robert Park called "marginal people," along with top sergeants, head nurses, and factory foremen -- not management and not quite labor. Of course, not every person occupying a marginal status needs to caress his rubber hose with such relish.

There are a couple of murders, a suicide, and a riot. There's plenty of action. At the same time, prison movies are by their nature depressing. The clothing and surroundings are so bleak and grating that, no matter what happens, one's spirits sink.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
4/10
Too Talky And Too Bleak
ccthemovieman-128 February 2007
This is one bleak, prison movie that goes under the heading of "film noir." I love many, many film noirs but I didn't find this appealing enough to remain a "keeper" in my collection. It's too much talk, for one thing, and sadistic prison guards and a depressing setting don't do much for me, either.

I have nothing but praise, however, for the photography and for the all the facial close-ups. The cast also is outstanding and deep with the likes of Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, Yvonne DiCarlo, Charles Bickford, Ella Raines, Howard Duff, Jeff Corey and Walt Bisssell. Wow - that's a lot of "name" actors to us film noir fans.

In between the jail scenes, we get flashbacks to various male-female relationships. In all, I was disappointed in this because I expected so much more.
15 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
" Stone Walls do not a Prison Make, Nor Iron Bars a Cage "
thinker169125 August 2011
In every society, there are certain men who for lack of a Good Attorney, or perhaps, a bad decision on their part, they find themselves at the receiving end of court inflicted judgment. One thing societies forget or may be they don't want to know, is that the men they have imprisoned, will eventually get out. The harshness of their punishment at the hands of the Warden or the Prison Guards is what drives inmates to remember how to treat their next victim when they do get out. In this Robert Patterson story, " Brute Force " our hero is one Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) who comes to the attention of a most sadistic Captain of the Guards named Munsey (Hume Cronyn) (superior acting) who prides himself in knowing how to rule. His egotistic style pits him against Collins and every other prisoner at the prison. Directed by Jules Dassin, this early Black and White movie is a great example of find casting of superior talent. Men who will make their mark in other superior movies. Men such as Jeff Corey, Jay C. Flippen, Howard Duff and Whit Bissell. Throughout this story, audiences hate to root for the hero, as he is a convict. Nevertheless, when it comes to Burt Lancaster, we cannot help but feel that he may yet succeed. The end result of this memorable film is the making of a Classic and in looking back, few can argue otherwise. Superb Movie. ****
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
"Where else would you find so many helpless flies to stick pins into?"
ackstasis5 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
'Brute Force (1947)' was the first in an impressive run of film noir pictures by Jules Dassin, prior to his trouble with the HUAC. It is perhaps the father of the prison drama. Certainly, without it there couldn't have been any 'Escape from Alcatraz (1979)' or 'The Shawshank Redemption (1994).' Burt Lancaster plays Joe Collins, a convict bent on escaping the seemingly-inpenetrable Westgate Penitentiary. Collins quietly recruits fellow inmates, while avoiding the watchful gaze of chief guard Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn), a sadistic, power-hungry authoritarian who is ultimately more dangerous than the prisoners in his charge. Cronyn's performance is brilliant and unusual: despite an otherwise unintimidating stature, he nonetheless represents a vicious force of reckless authority, frightening and loathsome. While ruthlessly beating a prisoner for information, Munsey drowns out the noise with a recording of the opera "Tannhäuser," perhaps a reference to Hitler's fondness for Wagner. In comparison, the prison's warden A.J. Barnes (Roman Bohnen) is meek and impotent, a tired old man clinging to the familiar.

Though undoubtedly a hard, tough drama, with several intense and confronting moments, Dassin punctures the film with tender flashbacks to the convicts' lives before prison. One inmate recalls with fondness the one time he was swindled by a crafty dame. Another laments the lover he left behind in Italy during the War. Collins remembers the innocent, wheelchair-ridden girl whom he loves, and who is doomed to die herself while he serves his prison sentence. These occasional flashbacks not only humanise the prisoners (especially when compared to the cold, spiteful Capt. Munsey), but also suggest the reason for their crimes, and their enduring lust to break free -- in true noir style, of course, a woman is usually the catalyst. This humanisation of the characters is ultimately heartbreaking, as we come to realise that their efforts are meaningless, their fates doomed. The Production Code would never have allowed a successful prison break, and, for once, the film is better for it.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
One of the all-time great prison films...
MartinHafer19 March 2010
Unlike most prison films, "Brute Force" is exceptional because it features some wonderful psychological portraits--not just the typical stereotypical hoods. In fact, the biggest villain in the movie is not even one of the inmates but the captain of the guards (Hume Cronyn). Cronyn manages to create a thoroughly despicable yet restrained character who you hate but who also is rather complex and gritty. He manipulates and pushes the prisoners to such lengths that you can't help to start to root for them instead of the sociopathic guards! This is an interesting twist and Cronyn can be credited for exceptional acting.

It also helps that the film has so many excellent actors. The star is a young Burt Lancaster, but she's ably assisted by the likes of character actors such as Charles Bickford, Whit Bissel and John Hoyt--as well as some flashbacks involving actresses Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth and the ill-fated Ella Raines. While most of these are not household names, all were very accomplished supporting character actors--and made the film classier and more interesting.

The theme of the film is Cronyn versus all the prisoners. He spends much of his time playing mind games with the men--pushing them until they break. His efforts, however, are pretty subtle--he is not an obvious sadist but delights in pushing the men over the edge--either pushing them to kill themselves, become an informer or attempt to break out of prison. One example is how he delights in pushing embezzler Bissell about his wife--telling him that she is going to divorce him. Nice guy, huh? Eventually, though, he pushes too hard. So hard that his machinations make the men snap--then, even the brilliant but sick Cronyn has lost control.

Exceptional acting, script and direction (with a stronger than typical film noir style to it) make this exciting throughout.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
BRUTE FORCE (Jules Dassin, 1947) ***1/2
Bunuel197611 October 2007
Though I'd only previously watched this movie once almost 25 years ago on a long-defunct Sicilian TV channel called Antenna 10, some scenes have stuck with me to this day and being able to reacquaint myself with the film was a long-cherished prospect which, thanks to Criterion, I now have.

The film is the epitome of the great, hard-hitting prison dramas of the 1930s, but the style in which it was filmed also makes it fall in the "Film Noir" category. This was only Burt Lancaster's second movie but he is already a tough, powerful screen presence and his character is one of the most respected within the prison community. The casting (in characterizations which would be much imitated in subsequent prison films) is perfection: pint-sized Hume Cronyn is very effectively cast against type as the quintessential brutal prison captain of the guards, Charles Bickford is the bigwig inmate who gets things done, Sam Levene is his reporter sidekick. Lancaster's gang includes Howard Duff (making his film debut), Jeff Corey (as a surprising 'rat'), suave ladies' man John Hoyt and Whit Bissell as the most vulnerable and least likely inmate who falls victim to Cronyn's "brute force". There's also Jay C. Flippen as an easy-going prison guard, Sir Lancelot as a happy-go-lucky jack-of-all-trades whose songs often sarcastically comment on the action, Vince Barnett as an old-timer who brings food (and messages) to the most dangerous inmates currently serving in the drainpipes, and an uncredited Charles McGraw as an arms dealer. Actually, one of the best roles in the film – the alcoholic, philosophizing prison doctor who is the only one genuinely interested in the fate of his "patients" – is splendidly portrayed by an actor who was unknown to me, Art Smith, and his confrontations with Cronyn offer some of the film's quiet highlights.

While the film itself offers relatively little new in terms of plot – a few of the prisoners are planning a breakout, the sadistic and power-hungry captain is more evil than the inmates themselves, an informer is punished during a staged scuffle, a traitor is present within Lancaster's gang, the climactic escape is a botched massacre, etc – and some of the plot points rather contrived – Sam Levene being sent to the drainpipes, which results in his being tortured by Cronyn – but Dassin's assured handling still makes all of these situations work superbly well. Ironically, after a period directing mostly light fare, this was the start of a peerless run of five noir classics – culminating in his celebrated caper film, RIFIFI (1955), made while exiled in France. Curiously enough, another Hollywood exile would later on basically make the British equivalent of BRUTE FORCE – i.e. Joseph Losey's exceptional THE CRIMINAL (1960) – while the failed prison break (in similar circumstances) also brings to mind Jacques Becker's masterful swan song, LE TROU (1960).

Like THE KILLERS (1946) before it, this was a Mark Hellinger production (it features no less than four actors from that film) and so would be Dassin's follow-up – THE NAKED CITY (1948). Miklos Rozsa's music is very good and subtly underscores the action. Unfortunately, the four flashback sequences added to the film to show that the hardened criminals here are good-natured people at heart, are mostly redundant and basically only serve to provide some female interest to the story; still, they are brief enough not be detrimental to the film's overall uncompromising bleakness. Incidentally, while screenwriter Richard Brooks was involved in this capacity with several noirs – the others being THE KILLERS itself, CROSSFIRE (1947), KEY LARGO (1948) and MYSTERY STREET (1950; which I recently acquired via Warners' fourth "Film Noir Collection" but have yet to watch) – he never revisited the genre once he graduated to the director's chair (though some sources do list his Mexican Revolution-set CRISIS [1950] and the crusading newspaper story DEADLINE – U.S.A. [1952] under this flexible banner).
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
6/10
Vastly overrated
jacksflicks27 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
What's with all the breathless 10 ratings? Ridiculous! What's snowed everybody is the great performances, but they're all in the service of a cliché-ridden melodrama, with a downbeat, portentous ending, to make the audience nod their heads gravely.

Here's the pitch (remember, it's 1947): Penitentiary as Nazi prisoner-of-war camp, complete with warden as weak commandant, chief guard as sadistic Gestapo officer, and brutal guards and, of course, an escape. They even play Wagner! The convicts are all good guys (except for the squealers), with tiresome flashbacks to tell us they were mostly done in by women. There's a single black con to pointlessly sing calypso. The parts are caricatures, but the acting is great -- with fine debuts by Howard Duff and Whit Bissell -- and there are some good lines.

There are also pretty good production values. Mark Hellinger knew how to produce "raw, gritty" stuff (and he died far too soon), and Jules Dassin, who would do Hellinger's last movie, The Naked City, and later the seminal caper flick Rififi, was good at directing it. But the story is really nothing more than the "prisons make criminals" same-old same-old. "I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" did it much earlier and far better.

This movie didn't make Burt Lancaster a star. Like Brando would later, this electrifying new star made the movie a success. He and the other fine performers have obviously made the movie seem better than it really is.
6 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews


Recently Viewed