Brute Force


1h 38m 1947
Brute Force

Brief Synopsis

Tough, disgruntled prisoners plan a daring, possibly bloody escape while on a drain pipe detail.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Crime
Prison
Film Noir
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Aug 1947
Premiere Information
New York opening: 16 Jul 1947
Production Company
Mark Hellinger Productions, Inc.; Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Company, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 38m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Synopsis

Captain Munsey, the prison captain of the Westgate Penitentiary, is despised by inmates and prison officials alike for his brutal treatment of the inmates. While Munsey's enemies include prison doctor Walters and Warden Barnes, he is supported by some inmate stool pigeons. One of the stool pigeons, Wilson, is killed when a group of prisoners force him into the workshop steel press. As living conditions at the prison continue to deteriorate, some of the inmates, including leader Joe Collins, who landed in prison for stealing money to support his wheelchair-bound wife, Spencer, Tom Lister and Soldier, plan a breakout. A painting of a woman hanging on one of the prison's walls prompts each of Joe's pals to recall his sweetheart, and the specific circumstances that led up to his imprisonment. Spencer remembers every detail about the day he was framed by his sweetheart, Flossie: When an illegal casino in Miami is raided, Flossie helps Spencer escape through a rear exit. She takes Spencer's gun under the pretext of protecting him, but then holds him up, steals all his money, forces him out of his car and drives off, never to be seen again. It is Spencer, not Flossie, however, who is eventually captured by police and sent to prison. Next, Tom tells his tale of woe: One day, he presents his beloved wife Cora with a three-thousand dollar fur coat, but admits that he feels guilty about having juggled the books at his job to pay for it. Cora cares little about Tom's worries and is only concerned about keeping her new coat. Even after being imprisoned for embezzeling, Tom still eagerly awaits Cora's letters. Soon after Spencer and Tom conclude their stories, Tom is pressured by Munsey to inform on his fellow inmates. When Tom refuses to cooperate, Munsey devastates him by lying that Cora is divorcing him, and as a result Tom hangs himself in his cell. When the suicide is discovered, Munsey accuses the cellmates of murder and punishes them with backbreaking work in the prison drainpipe. While they work, Soldier tells his pals about the fateful day when he took a murder rap for his beloved: After completing his tour of duty during World War II, Soldier returns to a small Italian town to resume his romance with his sweetheart Gina. Gina's father, however, disapproves of their romance, and when he threatens to report Soldier to the military police, Gina shoots him, and Soldier takes the blame. As the men continue to work, Dr. Walters accuses Munsey of torturing the prisoners, causing Munsey to become enraged and strike the doctor. At the same time, the men plan to escape through the drainpipe, but only hours before the breakout, Munsey begins to suspect them and denies one of the prisoners, Louie, a special pass to enter the pipe area. Munsey then tortures Louie in an attempt to wring a confession from him. Joe soon discovers that Louie was tortured and that one of his fellow inmates tipped off Munsey. Joe decides to test his pals to determine who the informant is, and eventually comes to suspect an inmate known as Freshman. Joe's suspicions are confirmed when Freshman violently objects to being the first to enter the drainpipe. Instructed by Munsey to shoot to kill anyone attempting an escape, the guards kill Freshman as he emerges from the drainpipe. When Joe and the others try to sneak past the guards, a gun battle erupts during which Joe kills Munsey. Joe himself is soon shot, but manages to open the prison gate before he dies. The prisoners' escape appears assured until Gallagher, the getaway truck driver, is killed and the guards capture or kill the rest of the inmates. Surveying the bloody scene, Dr. Walters wonders out loud why the men attempted such a foolish escape, saying, "Nobody escapes. Nobody ever escapes."

Photo Collections

Brute Force - Movie Posters
Here are a variety of original-release movie posters for Universal's Brute Force (1947), starring Burt Lancaster and Yvonne DeCarlo.

Videos

Movie Clip

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Crime
Prison
Film Noir
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Aug 1947
Premiere Information
New York opening: 16 Jul 1947
Production Company
Mark Hellinger Productions, Inc.; Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Company, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 38m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Articles

Brute Force


"Those gates only open three times. When you come in, when you've served your time, or when you're dead!"
- from Brute Force

Producer Mark Hellinger had wanted to make a prison movie for almost a decade, and when he read an article by a former convict, the basic story of Brute Force (1947) began to take shape. Hellinger hired San Francisco Examiner reporter Robert Patterson to come up with the scenario and then brought in Richard Brooks to write the screenplay. A young screenwriter, Brooks had already worked on two of Hellinger's productions: The Killers (1946, uncredited) and Swell Guy (1946). Hellinger also reunited Burt Lancaster with two of his costars from The Killers: Sam Levene and Charles McGraw. Brooks and Lancaster clearly got along. At one point, Brooks told Lancaster to get himself a copy of the Sinclair Lewis novel Elmer Gantry, as Brooks was determined to turn it into a film. Though it took thirteen years, he and Lancaster did make that picture, and both received Academy Awards for their work.

Part film noir and part Hollywood "message movie," Brute Force is filled with images of extreme, almost psychopathic violence. In the prison workshop, Lancaster's buddies take revenge on a stool pigeon, cornering him with lit blowtorches and pushing him into the giant press. An informer is strapped to the front of a railroad car as it hurtles towards manned machine guns. The prison captain tortures an inmate with a rubber hose while blaring Wagner from the record player.

Hume Cronyn's portrayal of the sadistic Captain Munsey is one of the highlights of his film career. Of course, the idea of a final physical confrontation between the athletic Lancaster and the wispy Cronyn was a bit hard to imagine as a real contest. As Cronyn recounts in his autobiography: "Burt, who had at one time been a circus acrobat, was in magnificent physical condition and weighed about two hundred pounds. He could in reality have picked me up with one hand and wrung me out like a washrag. As a concession to the casting and the totally unbelievable match, it was agreed that before the struggle began, Burt's character should be shot and wounded. Even so, Julie [Dassin] staged one of the most murderously filthy fights ever photographed, so filled with kicks to the groin, eye gouging and karate chops that when the scene was cut together, it was considered altogether too violent for the public and portions of it were eliminated."

Though ostensibly an indictment of a corrupt prison system, what emerges most clearly from the film is the sense of utter hopelessness. According to one of Lancaster's biographers, "as a postwar parable, the movie is deeply sad. The Nazi-type Captain Munsey is vanquished only to have the heroes who killed him either dead or still in prison." As the prison doctor (and the film's moral compass) repeatedly intones, "Nobody escapes, nobody ever escapes."

The only respite from the film's unrelenting brutality comes in the four romanticized flashbacks. At night, after the inmates use their blowtorches to push James O'Rear into the machine press, the four cellmates reminisce about the women who, unwittingly or not, put them in prison. Whit Bissell recalls his wife, Ella Raines (Hail the Conquering Hero, 1944), for whom he juggled the company's books in an effort to get her a mink coat. John Hoyt bitterly remembers con woman Anita Colby and the way she played him for a fool. (Colby, a former fashion model and advertising executive, was the inspiration for Grace Kelly's character in Rear Window, 1954.) Howard Duff thinks back to his Italian beauty, Yvonne De Carlo. She had killed her own father in an attempt to protect Duff, but when the authorities arrived, it was Duff who nobly took the fall. Finally, Lancaster thinks of his kind, wheelchair-bound girlfriend, Ann Blyth (Veda in Mildred Pierce, 1945). To get his hands on the money Blyth needs for an operation, Lancaster and his gang pull one more job, and Lancaster ends up in jail.

Though today she is chiefly remembered for her roles in The Ten Commandments (1956) and the TV series The Munsters, at the time De Carlo was one of Universal's most captivating starlets. And according to her autobiography, her charms were not lost on the film's star. "I had no doubts that Burt knew exactly what he wanted, and at the moment it was me." Though Lancaster had recently been married, he and De Carlo went together to a cocktail party and then out to dinner. Lancaster took the twenty-four-year-old back to her home, and there, outside, beneath an oleander bush and on top of De Carlo's mink coat, they made love. According to De Carlo, "It was so spontaneous and explosive, I thought I was playing a scene from a blazing romantic novel. Talk about being swept away!" Their "mutual fling" was short-lived, though as one can see in De Carlo's recollection, quite memorable.

According to Dassin, the flashback sequences were not his idea and though he vigorously objected to their inclusion in the film, he lost that battle (presumably to Hellinger). Lancaster too felt that the romantic subplot detracted from the intended effect. But as he said in a 1973 interview, "this was all part of Hollywood then. The emphasis was always on the love story. . . . They believed that what was known to have worked well at the box office should not be tampered with."

Dassin and Lancaster's concerns aside, the film does work, and part of the film's power comes from the exceptional music and photography. Miklos Rozsa's dramatic score gives the whole film an almost operatic quality, while the photography of William Daniels, which once made Garbo look otherworldly, here paints a crisp and all-too-real prison world, from which not even a soft light can escape.

Though the Production Code Office demanded several cuts to soften what it called the film's "excessive" brutality, the film's depiction of violence remained potent, and many critics felt that Hellinger had stepped over the line. Responding to these critics, Lancaster commented: "If Daumier knocks off a sketch of a rat eating out a woman's eye, by God, you say it's art, but if Joe Blow writes it for Hellinger, you say it's obscene. I don't get it."

Producer: Mark Hellinger
Director: Jules Dassin
Screenplay: Richard Brooks
Art Direction: John De Cuir, Bernard Herzbrun
Cinematography: William H. Daniels
Editing: Edward A. Curtiss
Music: Miklos Rozsa
Principal Cast: Burt Lancaster (Joe Collins), Hume Cronyn (Capt. Munsey), Charles Bickford (Gallagher), Yvonne de Carlo (Gina), Ann Blyth (Ruth), Whit Bissell (Tom Lister), Ella Raines (Cora Lister), Sam Levene (Louie Miller), Jeff Corey (Freshman), John Hoyt (Spencer), Jay C. Flippin (Hodges), Sir Lancelot (Calypso), Frank Puglia (Ferrara), Howard Duff (Soldier).
BW-98m.

By Mark Frankel
Brute Force

Brute Force

"Those gates only open three times. When you come in, when you've served your time, or when you're dead!" - from Brute Force Producer Mark Hellinger had wanted to make a prison movie for almost a decade, and when he read an article by a former convict, the basic story of Brute Force (1947) began to take shape. Hellinger hired San Francisco Examiner reporter Robert Patterson to come up with the scenario and then brought in Richard Brooks to write the screenplay. A young screenwriter, Brooks had already worked on two of Hellinger's productions: The Killers (1946, uncredited) and Swell Guy (1946). Hellinger also reunited Burt Lancaster with two of his costars from The Killers: Sam Levene and Charles McGraw. Brooks and Lancaster clearly got along. At one point, Brooks told Lancaster to get himself a copy of the Sinclair Lewis novel Elmer Gantry, as Brooks was determined to turn it into a film. Though it took thirteen years, he and Lancaster did make that picture, and both received Academy Awards for their work. Part film noir and part Hollywood "message movie," Brute Force is filled with images of extreme, almost psychopathic violence. In the prison workshop, Lancaster's buddies take revenge on a stool pigeon, cornering him with lit blowtorches and pushing him into the giant press. An informer is strapped to the front of a railroad car as it hurtles towards manned machine guns. The prison captain tortures an inmate with a rubber hose while blaring Wagner from the record player. Hume Cronyn's portrayal of the sadistic Captain Munsey is one of the highlights of his film career. Of course, the idea of a final physical confrontation between the athletic Lancaster and the wispy Cronyn was a bit hard to imagine as a real contest. As Cronyn recounts in his autobiography: "Burt, who had at one time been a circus acrobat, was in magnificent physical condition and weighed about two hundred pounds. He could in reality have picked me up with one hand and wrung me out like a washrag. As a concession to the casting and the totally unbelievable match, it was agreed that before the struggle began, Burt's character should be shot and wounded. Even so, Julie [Dassin] staged one of the most murderously filthy fights ever photographed, so filled with kicks to the groin, eye gouging and karate chops that when the scene was cut together, it was considered altogether too violent for the public and portions of it were eliminated." Though ostensibly an indictment of a corrupt prison system, what emerges most clearly from the film is the sense of utter hopelessness. According to one of Lancaster's biographers, "as a postwar parable, the movie is deeply sad. The Nazi-type Captain Munsey is vanquished only to have the heroes who killed him either dead or still in prison." As the prison doctor (and the film's moral compass) repeatedly intones, "Nobody escapes, nobody ever escapes." The only respite from the film's unrelenting brutality comes in the four romanticized flashbacks. At night, after the inmates use their blowtorches to push James O'Rear into the machine press, the four cellmates reminisce about the women who, unwittingly or not, put them in prison. Whit Bissell recalls his wife, Ella Raines (Hail the Conquering Hero, 1944), for whom he juggled the company's books in an effort to get her a mink coat. John Hoyt bitterly remembers con woman Anita Colby and the way she played him for a fool. (Colby, a former fashion model and advertising executive, was the inspiration for Grace Kelly's character in Rear Window, 1954.) Howard Duff thinks back to his Italian beauty, Yvonne De Carlo. She had killed her own father in an attempt to protect Duff, but when the authorities arrived, it was Duff who nobly took the fall. Finally, Lancaster thinks of his kind, wheelchair-bound girlfriend, Ann Blyth (Veda in Mildred Pierce, 1945). To get his hands on the money Blyth needs for an operation, Lancaster and his gang pull one more job, and Lancaster ends up in jail. Though today she is chiefly remembered for her roles in The Ten Commandments (1956) and the TV series The Munsters, at the time De Carlo was one of Universal's most captivating starlets. And according to her autobiography, her charms were not lost on the film's star. "I had no doubts that Burt knew exactly what he wanted, and at the moment it was me." Though Lancaster had recently been married, he and De Carlo went together to a cocktail party and then out to dinner. Lancaster took the twenty-four-year-old back to her home, and there, outside, beneath an oleander bush and on top of De Carlo's mink coat, they made love. According to De Carlo, "It was so spontaneous and explosive, I thought I was playing a scene from a blazing romantic novel. Talk about being swept away!" Their "mutual fling" was short-lived, though as one can see in De Carlo's recollection, quite memorable. According to Dassin, the flashback sequences were not his idea and though he vigorously objected to their inclusion in the film, he lost that battle (presumably to Hellinger). Lancaster too felt that the romantic subplot detracted from the intended effect. But as he said in a 1973 interview, "this was all part of Hollywood then. The emphasis was always on the love story. . . . They believed that what was known to have worked well at the box office should not be tampered with." Dassin and Lancaster's concerns aside, the film does work, and part of the film's power comes from the exceptional music and photography. Miklos Rozsa's dramatic score gives the whole film an almost operatic quality, while the photography of William Daniels, which once made Garbo look otherworldly, here paints a crisp and all-too-real prison world, from which not even a soft light can escape. Though the Production Code Office demanded several cuts to soften what it called the film's "excessive" brutality, the film's depiction of violence remained potent, and many critics felt that Hellinger had stepped over the line. Responding to these critics, Lancaster commented: "If Daumier knocks off a sketch of a rat eating out a woman's eye, by God, you say it's art, but if Joe Blow writes it for Hellinger, you say it's obscene. I don't get it." Producer: Mark Hellinger Director: Jules Dassin Screenplay: Richard Brooks Art Direction: John De Cuir, Bernard Herzbrun Cinematography: William H. Daniels Editing: Edward A. Curtiss Music: Miklos Rozsa Principal Cast: Burt Lancaster (Joe Collins), Hume Cronyn (Capt. Munsey), Charles Bickford (Gallagher), Yvonne de Carlo (Gina), Ann Blyth (Ruth), Whit Bissell (Tom Lister), Ella Raines (Cora Lister), Sam Levene (Louie Miller), Jeff Corey (Freshman), John Hoyt (Spencer), Jay C. Flippin (Hodges), Sir Lancelot (Calypso), Frank Puglia (Ferrara), Howard Duff (Soldier). BW-98m. By Mark Frankel

Jules Dassin (1911-2008) - TCM Schedule Change for Director Jules Dassin Memorial Tribute on Friday, April 20th


In Tribute to director Jules Dassin, who died Monday, March 31st, at age 96, TCM is changing its evening programming on Sunday, April 20th to honor the actor with a double-feature salute.

Sunday, April 20th
8:00 PM Naked City
9:45 PM Topkapi


TCM REMEMBERS JULES DASSIN (1911-2008)

Jules Dassin gained experience in theater and radio in New York before going to work in Hollywood in 1940, first with RKO (as assistant director) and then with MGM. Dassin hit his stride in the late 1940s with such dynamic (and still well-regarded) film noir melodramas as "Brute Force" (1947), "The Naked City" (1948), "Thieves' Highway" (1949) and "Night and the City" (1950), starring Richard Widmark who died this past Monday, March 24th.

After being blacklisted he moved to Europe, where he scored his greatest international successes with the French-produced "Rififi" (1955) and the then-scandalous "Never on Sunday" (1959), starring his second wife Melina Mercouri. For the most part, his later films--such as "Up Tight" (1968), an ill-conceived black remake of John Ford's 1935 classic "The Informer"--have been disappointing and inconclusive. Dassin, however, maintained that among his own films, his personal preference was "He Who Must Die" (1958), starring his wife Melina Mercouri. It is one of his least known films and is rarely screened today but here is a description of it: "Greece, in the 1920's, is occupied by the Turks. The country is in turmoil with entire villages uprooted. The site of the movie is a Greek village that conducts a passion play each year. The leading citizens of the town, under the auspices of the Patriarch, choose those that will play the parts in the Passion. A stuttering shepherd is chosen to play Jesus. The town butcher (who wanted to be Jesus) is chosen as Judas. The town prostitute is chosen as Mary Magdalene. The rest of the disciples are also chosen. As the movie unfolds, the Passion Play becomes a reality. A group of villagers, uprooted by the war and impoverished, arrive at the village led by their priest. The wealthier citizens of the town want nothing with these people and manipulate a massacre. In the context of the 1920's each of the characters plays out their biblical role in actuality."

Family

DAUGHTER: Julie Dassin. Actor. Mother, Beatrice Launer.
SON: Joey Dassin. Mother, Beatrice Launer.
SON: Rickey Dassin. Mother, Beatrice Launer.

Companion
WIFE: Beatrice Launer. Former concert violinist. Married in 1933; divorced in 1962.
WIFE: Melina Mercouri. Actor, politician. Born c. 1923; Greek; together from 1959; married from 1966 until her death on March 6, 1994.

Milestone

1936: First role on New York stage (Yiddish Theater)

1940: First film as assistant director Directed first stage play, "The Medicine Show 1941: Directed first short film, "The Tell-Tale Heart"

1942: Feature directing debut, "Nazi Agent/Salute to Courage"

Jules Dassin (1911-2008) - TCM Schedule Change for Director Jules Dassin Memorial Tribute on Friday, April 20th

In Tribute to director Jules Dassin, who died Monday, March 31st, at age 96, TCM is changing its evening programming on Sunday, April 20th to honor the actor with a double-feature salute. Sunday, April 20th 8:00 PM Naked City 9:45 PM Topkapi TCM REMEMBERS JULES DASSIN (1911-2008) Jules Dassin gained experience in theater and radio in New York before going to work in Hollywood in 1940, first with RKO (as assistant director) and then with MGM. Dassin hit his stride in the late 1940s with such dynamic (and still well-regarded) film noir melodramas as "Brute Force" (1947), "The Naked City" (1948), "Thieves' Highway" (1949) and "Night and the City" (1950), starring Richard Widmark who died this past Monday, March 24th. After being blacklisted he moved to Europe, where he scored his greatest international successes with the French-produced "Rififi" (1955) and the then-scandalous "Never on Sunday" (1959), starring his second wife Melina Mercouri. For the most part, his later films--such as "Up Tight" (1968), an ill-conceived black remake of John Ford's 1935 classic "The Informer"--have been disappointing and inconclusive. Dassin, however, maintained that among his own films, his personal preference was "He Who Must Die" (1958), starring his wife Melina Mercouri. It is one of his least known films and is rarely screened today but here is a description of it: "Greece, in the 1920's, is occupied by the Turks. The country is in turmoil with entire villages uprooted. The site of the movie is a Greek village that conducts a passion play each year. The leading citizens of the town, under the auspices of the Patriarch, choose those that will play the parts in the Passion. A stuttering shepherd is chosen to play Jesus. The town butcher (who wanted to be Jesus) is chosen as Judas. The town prostitute is chosen as Mary Magdalene. The rest of the disciples are also chosen. As the movie unfolds, the Passion Play becomes a reality. A group of villagers, uprooted by the war and impoverished, arrive at the village led by their priest. The wealthier citizens of the town want nothing with these people and manipulate a massacre. In the context of the 1920's each of the characters plays out their biblical role in actuality." Family DAUGHTER: Julie Dassin. Actor. Mother, Beatrice Launer. SON: Joey Dassin. Mother, Beatrice Launer. SON: Rickey Dassin. Mother, Beatrice Launer. Companion WIFE: Beatrice Launer. Former concert violinist. Married in 1933; divorced in 1962. WIFE: Melina Mercouri. Actor, politician. Born c. 1923; Greek; together from 1959; married from 1966 until her death on March 6, 1994. Milestone 1936: First role on New York stage (Yiddish Theater) 1940: First film as assistant director Directed first stage play, "The Medicine Show 1941: Directed first short film, "The Tell-Tale Heart" 1942: Feature directing debut, "Nazi Agent/Salute to Courage"

Brute Force - Burt Lancaster in Jules Dassin's 1947 Film Noir on DVD


Legendary producer Mark Hellinger launched this subversive prison revolt epic to follow The Killers, the smash hit which had introduced his discovery Burt Lancaster. The movie also marks the crime film debut of the 'socially committed' director Jules Dassin, who would make two more noir classics (The Naked City, Night and the City) before fleeing to Europe to avoid the persecution of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Brute Force carries a radical, violent message: Society is a rigged system and rebellion is the only meaningful act.

A superb production and a powerhouse cast made Brute Force into a fierce action drama that put the Production Code on the defensive. Its only weakness is Richard Brooks' sometimes overwritten dialogue, which voices a social outrage that would not be tolerated outside of a genre film.

Synopsis: Westgate Prison is a hotbox of violence ready to explode. The ineffectual policies of Warden Barnes (Roman Bohnen) have left the prisoners under the authority of the sadistic, Nazi-like Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn). Munsey derives personal pleasure from torturing prisoners both physically and psychologically, as seen when he drives inmate Tom Lister (Whit Bissell) to despair with lies that his wife on the outside has filed for divorce. Realizing that any further disruption will lead to his promotion to Warden, Munsey secretly agitates to encourage prisoners to revolt or attempt a breakout. Hard-bitten inmate Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) leads his cellblock in doing just that, allying with prison 'boss' Gallagher (Charles Bickford) to coordinate a two-pronged attack on the machine-gun tower guarding the gated bridge to freedom. Little does Munsey know that the rage he's encouraged will consume him as well.

Brute Force is less about prison life than it is "Spartacus in the Big House". Even with the distance of allegory, few liberal movies are as politically explicit. In a Hollywood with a Production Code that disallowed negative depictions of law enforcement officers, Brute Force presents a prison warder as an out-and-out Nazi. Hume Cronyn's power-mad Captain Munsey talks about the right of the strong to destroy the weak, and tortures a Jewish prisoner while playing Wagner on his phonograph.

That said, Richard Brooks' taut script spreads the blame to its "liberal" characters as well. Munsey is presented as a lone sociopath alienated from the rest of the prison guards, some of whom are revolted by his behavior. Munsey's reign of terror is only possible because the warden is an indecisive weakling incapable of fighting for inmate rights. Brooks' supposed moral spokesman is the prison doctor. He spouts tough liberal talk about abuses and human rights but is an alcoholic and a defeatist. He does less than nothing to change conditions.

Brute Force's biased view sees most men in prison as sympathetic martyrs. Charles Bickford's unofficial inmate mayor is a man of discretion and integrity. A romantic flashback emphasizes that noble prisoner Burt Lancaster loves a crippled girl (Ann Blyth). The fact that he's a member of a gang of robbers is accepted without comment. Several of Burt's immediate bunkmates seem to be in prison for romantic reasons: Whit Bissell embezzled money to buy his wife (Ella Raines) a fur and Howard Duff took the rap when his Italian girlfriend (Yvonne De Carlo) shot her father. Gentleman crook John Hoyt relates an amusing tale of being fleeced at gunpoint by a swanky but treacherous date. Rather too conveniently, the inmate population is depicted as victims of an oppressive system. Of course, the romantic flashbacks are also there to help Brute Force appeal to female moviegoers, and provide pretty girls for the poster art.

The first act ends with an appalling scene in which the inmates take revenge on an informer. Luckless Wilson (James O'Rear) ratted on Lancaster's Collins; his punishment is to be crushed under a massive machine steam press. With ritual solemnity, our 'heroes' use blowtorches to force Wilson into the press. Adding to the sadism, we're expected to view the disturbing killing as justified, a communal retribution.

Brute Force moves inexorably toward an apocalyptic finale. Collins' work gang just outside the prison gates unites with the Gallagher-led general prison population in a full-scale revolt, with machine guns and Molotov cocktails. The inmates riot as much for vengeance against Munsey as to actually escape. Too enraged to back down, Collins goes through with the breakout even after learning that Munsey has laid a trap. The guards are overcome, but the bloody rebellion is short-lived.

Director Jules Dassin shows skill in his character scenes as well as a flair for staging the bloody havoc of the finale. Making heavy use of optical expert David S. Horsley's mattes and miniatures, Dassin turns the watchtower confrontation between Collins and Munsey into a violent precursor to the end of The Wild Bunch. Collins reacts to being shot in the back almost identically to William Holden from Sam Peckinpah's film.

The only dead weight in Brute Force are the position speeches Richard Brooks places in the mouth of Art Smith's doctor. The prison sawbones unerringly spouts poetic humanist arguments, placing the film's radical message out in the open. The only worse offender in film noir is the Italian scientist in Try and Get Me! who constantly plagues the other characters with lofty moral messages. At least Jules Dassin and Art Smith make the scenes properly forceful.

Each role and bit part in Brute Force is filled with a dynamic persona, starting with holdovers from The Killers: Sam Levene, Jeff Corey and Charles McGraw). Scores of familiar faces are cast to type: Jack Overman, Sir Lancelot, Vince Barnett, Jay C. Flippen, Richard Gaines, Frank Puglia, James Bell, Howland Chamberlain, Gene Roth, Glenn Strange, Ray Teal. Hellinger would reward young Howard Duff with a showcase role in his next and final film The Naked City. Burt Lancaster's hot date in The Killers had been Ava Gardner, an MGM starlet loan-out who returned to her studio a star. To replace her Hellinger promoted Universal's intoxicating beauty Yvonne De Carlo. She later paired with Lancaster in Robert Siodmak's masterpiece Criss Cross.

Criterion's DVD of Brute Force finishes its series of vintage Jules Dassin titles with an excellent video rendering of this rare crime classic. The B&W transfer beats any previous release. The audio is much clearer, the better to appreciate Miklos Rosza's nervous, emphatic score.

Disc producer Issa Clubb fills an insert booklet with an excellent essay on the film by Michael Atkinson and an amusing appreciation of Mark Hellinger taken from a 1947 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. A contemporary of Damon Runyon, the colorful Hellinger might have been the inspiration for Runyon's Sky Masterson or Dave the Dude. The booklet also reprints several memos and letters in Hellinger's adroit censorship battle with Joseph Breen. Prison ethics and issues expert Paul Mason is on camera for an interview documentary about prison films, promoting the idea that prisons are an archaic institution that needs to be abolished.

The best extra is Alain Silver and James Ursini's authoritative commentary. The noir authors tackle Brute Force with uncommon clarity, analyzing its sometimes contradictory politics and placing the film in the context of the HUAC years with economy and precision. Their observations make a compelling case that Hellinger and Dassin's film is one of the central works of the noir style.

A trailer in poor condition is provided, along with an excellent selection of publicity graphics and stills.

For more information about Brute Force, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Brute Force, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

Brute Force - Burt Lancaster in Jules Dassin's 1947 Film Noir on DVD

Legendary producer Mark Hellinger launched this subversive prison revolt epic to follow The Killers, the smash hit which had introduced his discovery Burt Lancaster. The movie also marks the crime film debut of the 'socially committed' director Jules Dassin, who would make two more noir classics (The Naked City, Night and the City) before fleeing to Europe to avoid the persecution of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Brute Force carries a radical, violent message: Society is a rigged system and rebellion is the only meaningful act. A superb production and a powerhouse cast made Brute Force into a fierce action drama that put the Production Code on the defensive. Its only weakness is Richard Brooks' sometimes overwritten dialogue, which voices a social outrage that would not be tolerated outside of a genre film. Synopsis: Westgate Prison is a hotbox of violence ready to explode. The ineffectual policies of Warden Barnes (Roman Bohnen) have left the prisoners under the authority of the sadistic, Nazi-like Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn). Munsey derives personal pleasure from torturing prisoners both physically and psychologically, as seen when he drives inmate Tom Lister (Whit Bissell) to despair with lies that his wife on the outside has filed for divorce. Realizing that any further disruption will lead to his promotion to Warden, Munsey secretly agitates to encourage prisoners to revolt or attempt a breakout. Hard-bitten inmate Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) leads his cellblock in doing just that, allying with prison 'boss' Gallagher (Charles Bickford) to coordinate a two-pronged attack on the machine-gun tower guarding the gated bridge to freedom. Little does Munsey know that the rage he's encouraged will consume him as well. Brute Force is less about prison life than it is "Spartacus in the Big House". Even with the distance of allegory, few liberal movies are as politically explicit. In a Hollywood with a Production Code that disallowed negative depictions of law enforcement officers, Brute Force presents a prison warder as an out-and-out Nazi. Hume Cronyn's power-mad Captain Munsey talks about the right of the strong to destroy the weak, and tortures a Jewish prisoner while playing Wagner on his phonograph. That said, Richard Brooks' taut script spreads the blame to its "liberal" characters as well. Munsey is presented as a lone sociopath alienated from the rest of the prison guards, some of whom are revolted by his behavior. Munsey's reign of terror is only possible because the warden is an indecisive weakling incapable of fighting for inmate rights. Brooks' supposed moral spokesman is the prison doctor. He spouts tough liberal talk about abuses and human rights but is an alcoholic and a defeatist. He does less than nothing to change conditions. Brute Force's biased view sees most men in prison as sympathetic martyrs. Charles Bickford's unofficial inmate mayor is a man of discretion and integrity. A romantic flashback emphasizes that noble prisoner Burt Lancaster loves a crippled girl (Ann Blyth). The fact that he's a member of a gang of robbers is accepted without comment. Several of Burt's immediate bunkmates seem to be in prison for romantic reasons: Whit Bissell embezzled money to buy his wife (Ella Raines) a fur and Howard Duff took the rap when his Italian girlfriend (Yvonne De Carlo) shot her father. Gentleman crook John Hoyt relates an amusing tale of being fleeced at gunpoint by a swanky but treacherous date. Rather too conveniently, the inmate population is depicted as victims of an oppressive system. Of course, the romantic flashbacks are also there to help Brute Force appeal to female moviegoers, and provide pretty girls for the poster art. The first act ends with an appalling scene in which the inmates take revenge on an informer. Luckless Wilson (James O'Rear) ratted on Lancaster's Collins; his punishment is to be crushed under a massive machine steam press. With ritual solemnity, our 'heroes' use blowtorches to force Wilson into the press. Adding to the sadism, we're expected to view the disturbing killing as justified, a communal retribution. Brute Force moves inexorably toward an apocalyptic finale. Collins' work gang just outside the prison gates unites with the Gallagher-led general prison population in a full-scale revolt, with machine guns and Molotov cocktails. The inmates riot as much for vengeance against Munsey as to actually escape. Too enraged to back down, Collins goes through with the breakout even after learning that Munsey has laid a trap. The guards are overcome, but the bloody rebellion is short-lived. Director Jules Dassin shows skill in his character scenes as well as a flair for staging the bloody havoc of the finale. Making heavy use of optical expert David S. Horsley's mattes and miniatures, Dassin turns the watchtower confrontation between Collins and Munsey into a violent precursor to the end of The Wild Bunch. Collins reacts to being shot in the back almost identically to William Holden from Sam Peckinpah's film. The only dead weight in Brute Force are the position speeches Richard Brooks places in the mouth of Art Smith's doctor. The prison sawbones unerringly spouts poetic humanist arguments, placing the film's radical message out in the open. The only worse offender in film noir is the Italian scientist in Try and Get Me! who constantly plagues the other characters with lofty moral messages. At least Jules Dassin and Art Smith make the scenes properly forceful. Each role and bit part in Brute Force is filled with a dynamic persona, starting with holdovers from The Killers: Sam Levene, Jeff Corey and Charles McGraw). Scores of familiar faces are cast to type: Jack Overman, Sir Lancelot, Vince Barnett, Jay C. Flippen, Richard Gaines, Frank Puglia, James Bell, Howland Chamberlain, Gene Roth, Glenn Strange, Ray Teal. Hellinger would reward young Howard Duff with a showcase role in his next and final film The Naked City. Burt Lancaster's hot date in The Killers had been Ava Gardner, an MGM starlet loan-out who returned to her studio a star. To replace her Hellinger promoted Universal's intoxicating beauty Yvonne De Carlo. She later paired with Lancaster in Robert Siodmak's masterpiece Criss Cross. Criterion's DVD of Brute Force finishes its series of vintage Jules Dassin titles with an excellent video rendering of this rare crime classic. The B&W transfer beats any previous release. The audio is much clearer, the better to appreciate Miklos Rosza's nervous, emphatic score. Disc producer Issa Clubb fills an insert booklet with an excellent essay on the film by Michael Atkinson and an amusing appreciation of Mark Hellinger taken from a 1947 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. A contemporary of Damon Runyon, the colorful Hellinger might have been the inspiration for Runyon's Sky Masterson or Dave the Dude. The booklet also reprints several memos and letters in Hellinger's adroit censorship battle with Joseph Breen. Prison ethics and issues expert Paul Mason is on camera for an interview documentary about prison films, promoting the idea that prisons are an archaic institution that needs to be abolished. The best extra is Alain Silver and James Ursini's authoritative commentary. The noir authors tackle Brute Force with uncommon clarity, analyzing its sometimes contradictory politics and placing the film in the context of the HUAC years with economy and precision. Their observations make a compelling case that Hellinger and Dassin's film is one of the central works of the noir style. A trailer in poor condition is provided, along with an excellent selection of publicity graphics and stills. For more information about Brute Force, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Brute Force, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Quotes

I don't care about everybody else.
- Joe Collins
That's cemetery talk.
- Gallagher
Why not, we're buried, ain't we? Only thing is, we ain't dead.
- Joe Collins
Those gates only open three times. When you come in, when you've served your time, or when you're dead!
- Gallagher
That's why you'd never resign from this prison. Where else whould you find so many helpless flies to stick pins into?
- Dr. Walters
Force does make leaders. But you forget one thing: it also destroys them.
- Dr. Walters
Just remember there's no reward for bringing 'em back alive. Not in this jungle.
- Captain Munsey

Trivia

Notes

Howard Duff and Jay C. Flippen made their screen debuts in this picture. Duff, who played the character of "Soldier" in the film, was known for his portrayal of Sam Spade on the CBS radio series The Adventures of Sam Spade, and Flippen, who played "Guard Hodges," was a New York baseball commentator. The portrait of the woman used in the film to evoke the memories of each inmate was actually a composite picture of actresses Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth and Ella Raines, painted by John Decker. Hollywood Reporter production charts list Glenn Strange, Rex Dale and Ruth Sanderson as members of the cast, but their appearance in the final film could not be confirmed. According to a February 26, 1947 Hollywood Reporter item, background footage was shot at the Sacramento River in Northern California.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States August 1947

Released in United States June 6, 1947

Released in United States on Video January 1999

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1947

Completed shooting April 19, 1947.

Released in United States on Video January 1999

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1947

Released in United States June 6, 1947

Released in United States August 1947