Caged men, cut off from their women by a wall of stone and steel! Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) schemes to break out of Westgate prison to be with his girl, who won't have a lifesaving operation until Joe is at her side. Bu... more »t Joe's hatred of Munsey (Hume Cronyn), the cruel guard captain, grows intense and threatens his escape. Tipped off to the plan, Capt. Munsey meets the prisoner's escape attempt with machine guns...« less
Uncompromisingly Brutal, Pessimistic, and Affecting.
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 06/29/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Brute Force" is one of the most violent film noirs of the classic era, as well as one of the most pessimistic -and this is after some violence was removed to comply with the Production Code. The story takes place within the confines of Westgate Penitentiary, an overcrowded prison whose deficient living conditions and sadistic guards make the inmates' lives nearly unbearable. Prison life is no less than a war between the inmates and guard Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn), who routinely uses blackmail and torture to control the prisoners. When the warden revokes all the inmates' privileges in response to the deaths of two men, inmate Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) hatches a violent and risky escape plan with his cellmates and a senior, well-respected prisoner named Gallagher (Charles Bickford).
Director Jules Dessin doesn't let a glimmer of hope into this film. The violence is brutal and wholly without sentiment or regret. The utter hopelessness of the situation in the prison is overwhelming. Brute force is the only means in Westgate Penitentiary. The standout performance is by Hume Cronyn as the Nazi-inspired Captain Munsey, an unabashed sadist who uses social Darwinism to rationalize absolute dominance of the prisoners, who are, after all, behind bars, not free to challenge him. The prison doctor, a disgraced surgeon named Walters (Art Smith), numbs himself with alcohol and articulates the film's themes. "Do you know what this prison is?" he says. "One big human bomb!"
The film is a little too long, and the flashback scenes of wives and girlfriends are superfluous. This is perhaps the most blatantly existential film noir. It takes the position of Sartrean philosophy, articulated by Dr. Walters, which is juxtaposed with Nietzschean philosophy, articulated by Capt. Munsey. I'm not normally captivated by either of these schools of thought, but "Brute Force" kept me interested for the duration of the film. It is a brutal, beautiful film with sharp dialogue, solid character writing, and great attention to detail.
The DVD (Image Entertainment 1999): This is a good print of the film with no obvious image or sound problems. Bonus features include filmographies of director Jules Dessin, writer Richard Brooks, and 3 of the film's stars. (Choose "Filmographies", then "next" to see them.) The "Stills and Pressbook Gallery" (4 minutes) is a slideshow, with accompanying them music by Miklos Rozsa, of production stills, posters, and advertisements for the film."
dhmes | Texas | 05/12/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Excellent movie! Unlike today's movies with lots of special effects and very little story developement with dialogue, this movie is the opposite. A must-see for all Burt Lancaster fans."
Douglas Doepke | Claremont, CA United States | 07/13/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There's a feverish undercurrent to this prison film that occasionally erupts into outright delirium ( the prison break, the interrogation scene). As delivered by blacklisted director Jules Dassin and screenwriter Richard Brooks, the film's anti-fascist message is put in your face, not in your lap. Still it's exciting stuff, except for the draggy domestic scenes that are meant to humanize the cons, but instead disrupt the film's relentless pace and super-charged atmosphere. Burt Lancaster gives a career performance, while Hume Cronyn is surprisingly effective as the sly Nazi-like warden. There are many familiar faces in the supporting cast, especially Art Smith as the humane but feckless doctor and Sir Lancelot as his calypso assistant. I suspect there's a provocative parable lurking somewhere in the subtext, something about the inability of liberals (the old warden and the doc) to contain the brute force it takes to keep people in prison. This is revealed at film's end when the camera dollys back to reveal the doc behind office bars and speaking toward the camera. Then we know the movie is about more than a bunch of desperate convicts trying to break through prison walls. Despite its many flaws, this stark melodrama keeps coming at you with the mesmerizing force of an uplifted hammer and should not be missed."
A Dark Look At Prison Life
James L. | 02/01/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Brute Force is a surprisingly tough look at life in a prison, given the time when it was made. Burt Lancaster stars as an inmate who plans his escape to be with his critically ill girlfriend, Ann Blyth. He enlists the help of his cellmates and an older, experienced inmate, Charles Bickford. Standing in their way is a brutal, ambitious guard played very well by Hume Cronyn. There are a number of great scenes in the movie, including Cronyn's beating of an inmate to the sound of classical music, and the death in a giant press of an inmate that informed. The performances are good, the film moves at an excellent pace, and the ending surprised me somewhat, again given the time that it was made. Brute Force is a very good movie."
James L. | 04/21/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The film opens in the pouring rain at a prison. The proceedings are advanced by an electric cast including Lancaster, Bickford, Cronin, John Hoyt, Whit Bissell, Art Smith and Howard Duff. In the finale, when Lancaster learns who the pidgeon really is...the look on his face will send chills up your spine...No dialogue is needed. Bleak and almost surreal!"