Brute Force (1947)

“Force does make leaders.”

Westgate Prison is a powder keg. It’s overcrowded, and the prisoners are treated inhumanely. Warden, A.J. Barnes (Roman Bohan) can’t seem to control the prison, and he’s being eased out by Captain Munsey (Hume Crohn). Munsey is the villain of the film. He has his own ideas about running the prison, and Munsey can’t wait to install some real discipline. His corrupt methods include maintaining stoolies in the system and beating prisoners to get information out of them. In contrast to Munsey, is the prisoner Collins (Burt Lancaster) who effectively leads a prison break. Collins possesses the sensitivity and humanity that the fascist Munsey lacks. The two men are the antithesis of one another.

Several of the prisoners in cell R17 recall their relationships with women in flashback. Collins, for example, is shown tenderly ministering to his beloved–a sunny girl in a wheelchair. Another character has a dalliance with Yvonne de Carlo who hams up her role with an incredibly bad accent.

For film noir fans, however, Brute Force is worth catching for the sheer audacity of the prison break. While this, unfortunately takes place all too briefly at the end of the film, these scenes reveal the film’s power. The film’s message is clear–treat the prisoners like animals, and animals they will become. The sheer hate and violence that’s been simmering in these desperate men is suddenly unleashed at the prison system. This superb latter section of the film is gritty, realistic and savagely violent. Munsey reveals his true evil nature while many prisoners sacrifice their lives in an attempt to even the score. For this ultimate realism, Brute Force is an astonishing film. From director Jules Dassin.


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Filed under Film Noir

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