The second of three films that Burt Lancaster made for Mark Hellinger, the writer-producer who discovered the former acrobat and turned him into a movie star. The first of these was The Killers (1946) and the three-picture contract was completed with Criss Cross (1949), a film Hellinger never lived to see, as he died before production began. His widow insisted that Lancaster honor the contract he had with her husband.
Former Warner Bros. producer Mark Hellinger, who had started his own independent production unit at Universal-International, wanted Wayne Morris to star in his first picture, The Killers (1946). Warners wouldn't loan Morris out, so Hellinger cast Burt Lancaster, who had made his motion picture debut in "The Killers".
The movie the inmates were watching was 'The Egg and I' (1947) starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert. Both that and Brute Force were Aug 1947 Universal releases so a sort of movie 'trailer' within another movie, which is quite unique.
When the Group Theater (1931-40)--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 had been 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' 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."
The calendar girl was painted as a composite of all the female characters in the film: it features one or two facial characteristics from each one of them. Therefore when each man looks at it, it does actually resemble his loved one. The original prop was sold at an auction for 2500 dollars.
Miklós Rósza's score for "Brute Force" was the source for the famous theme from the 1950's TV show "Dragnet," which opened every episode. Rósza got a separate credit on each "Dragnet" show even though Walter Schuman wrote the rest of the music.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The climactic scene in which Burt Lancaster throws sadistic prison guard Hume Cronyn from the guard tower became an iconic talking point of the film. This, coupled with Lancaster's film from the previous year The Killers (1946), helped make the actor into a superstar.