Brute Force

April 20, 2009 at 4:38 PM (Film Noir Reviews) (, , )


Brute Force is one of the best and most influential prison movies ever made and certainly stands atop the prison noir sub-genre. It is noir to the core with its fatalism, vulnerable heroes, grimness and definitive leftist principles. It was considered at the time as a propaganda movie and there is much to that as the convicts are shown sympathetically and most of the authority figures are either evil, incompetent or ambitious at the cost of others.


There are some noir heavyweights involved with Brute Force such as Mark Hellinger, Jules Dassin and Burt Lancaster. It is a great ensemble cast that includes Lancaster as the start but many significant supporting roles, most notably Hume Cronyn as the unforgettably wicked Captain Munsey. Sam Levene, Art Smith, Charles Bickford, Yvonne De Carlo, John Hoyt and Ella Raines have lesser roles.


There are some really beautiful shots in this film, courtesy of Dassin and cinematographer William Daniels was also the cinematographer for Dassin on Naked City. The hearse pulling through the gate in the beginning cutting the rain and heading over the bridge is as striking a shot as you will find in any film noir. The tone is set from this beginning with the rain soaking the yard and the large seemingly unmovable door holding everyone in except the man who has just died. The fatalism of the film is set right then as the only way out is death and Burt Lancaster seems to feel this as he stands in the rain and watches the large gate open and the dead man pass on to the other side.


For its time it is certainly a violent film. It amazingly lays dormant for long stretches and then explodes at you. Hellinger and Dassin were able to get around this violence because of Hellinger’s connections to the censorship board.


There may be no other film that contains as many black listed players or those whose careers where hurt by their political beliefs. Jules Dassin, Jeffrey Corey, Art Smith, Roman Bohnen, Charles Bickford and Howard Chamberland where among those who were though to be communists or have severe leftist leanings which damaged their careers to various degrees. The message sent by Brute Force was certainly no help in their fight against the HUAC and the blacklist.  


This is one of the many noirs directed by Jules Dassin and it certainly is among his best. Dassin’s collaboration with producer Mark Hellinger and writer Richard Brooks was indeed contentious but productive. An extensive review of this film could go on forever about the complex staging of nearly every scene which greatly adds to the look and feel of the film. It is truly Dassin during the height of his powers. This is certainly a film that noir lovers should see. Even if you object to the sympathizing of the prisoners and the propagandizing that comes through the drunken doctor on several occasions, the film is beautiful, the acting is top-notch for its time and style and each scene is incredibly layered.   



1 Comment

  1. Film Forum - Con Film Festival May 8th - 21st « Twenty Four Frames said,

    […] Brute Force […]

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