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Brute Force (1947 film): Wikis


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Brute Force

Lobby card
Directed by Jules Dassin
Produced by Mark Hellinger
Written by Screenplay:
Richard Brooks
Robert Patterson
Starring Burt Lancaster
Hume Cronyn
Charles Bickford
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography William Daniels
Editing by Edward Curtiss
Distributed by Universal
Release date(s) June 30, 1947
(United States)
Running time 98 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Brute Force (1947) is a brooding, brutal film noir, starring Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn and Charles Bickford. It was directed by Jules Dassin, with a screenplay by Richard Brooks and the cinematography by William H. Daniels.[1]

The film was among several film noirs made by Dassin during the postwar period. The others were Thieves' Highway, Night and the City and The Naked City.



The men in prison.

The film opens on a dark, rainy morning. Prisoners of Westgate Prison are crammed four into a small cell watch out the window as Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) leaves his term in solitary confinement. Joe comes out angry, and talking about escape. The warden is under pressure to improve discipline. The prison doctor warns that the prison is a powder keg and could explode if they are not careful, not to mention that there is little rehabilitation going on.

Joe's attorney comes to visit and tells Joe his wife Ruth (Ann Blyth) is not willing to go forward with an operation unless Joe is there with her. Her life is at risk if she does not have surgery for her cancer. Joe asks his attorney to get some cash together and have it at his office. In the machine shop the prisoners plan to attack Wilson (James O'Rear) at 10:30. While other prisoners cause a commotion, Wilson is pushed into a compactor and killed. Not coincidentally, Joe is in Dr. Walter's (Art Smith) office when the murder takes place.

Joe presses Gallagher (Charles Bickford) to help him escape but Gallagher has a good job at the prison newspaper and could get a parole. But after instigating a prisoner suicide, the administration revokes prisoner privileges and cancels parole hearings. Gallagher decides breaking out with Joe may be a good idea after all. Joe and Gallagher plan an assault on the tower where they can get access to the lever that lowers a bridge they have to cross to escape.

While the escape plan is taking shape, the cons in cell R17 each tell a story, via flashback, about how being in love somehow got them all in trouble with the law. Standing in the way of the prison break is a sadistic prison Capt. Munsey (Hume Cronyn). When the break goes bad the normally subdued prison yard turns into a violent and bloody riot.



The direct inspiration for the unremitting desperate violence was the recent "Battle of Alcatraz" (May 2-4, 1946) in which three prisoners and two guards were killed during a foiled escape attempt.

The film has a number of brutal scenes including the crushing of a stool pigeon prisoner under a stamping machine and the beating of a prisoner bound to a chair by straps. Film writer Eddie Muller writes that "the climax of Brute Force displayed the most harrowing violence ever seen in movie theaters."[2]

Jules Dassin fled the United States because he was to be named a Communist in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He left for Europe and produced Night and the City in London.

Oliver Stone cites the film as an influence for his prison break climax in Natural Born Killers (1994).

The producers used the following tagline to market the film:

Raw! Rough! Ruthless!

Critical reception

When released, Variety magazine gave the film a positive review, writing, "A closeup on prison life and prison methods, Brute Force is a showmanly mixture of gangster melodramatics, sociological exposition, and sex...The s.a. elements are plausible and realistic, well within the bounds, but always pointing up the femme fatale. Thus Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth, Ella Raines and Anita Colby are the women on the 'outside' whose machinations, wiles or charms accounted for their men being on the 'inside'...Bristling, biting dialog by Richard Brooks paints broad cameos as each character takes shape under existing prison life. Bickford is the wise and patient prison paper editor whose trusty (Levene), has greater freedom in getting 'stories' for the sheet. Cronyn is diligently hateful as the arrogant, brutal captain, with his system of stoolpigeons and bludgeoning methods."[3]

Film critic Bosley Crowther wrote, "Not having intimate knowledge of prisons or prisoners, we wouldn't know whether the average American convict is so cruelly victimized as are the principal prison inmates in Brute Force, which came to Loew's Criterion yesterday. But to judge by this 'big house' melodrama, the poor chaps who languish in our jails are miserably and viciously mistreated and their jailers are either weaklings or brutes...Brute Force is faithful to its title—even to taking law and order into its own hands. The moral is: don't go to prison; you meet such vile authorities there. And, as the doctor observes sadly, 'Nobody ever escapes.'"[4]

More recently, critic Dennis Schwartz wrote, "Jules Dassin (Rififi and Naked City) directs this hard-hitting but outdated crime drama concerned about prison conditions. Its social commentary seems more like a mixture of bleeding heart liberal talk and Hollywood's melodramatic interpretation about prison life than a true questioning of the prison system, though its concerns for prisoners' rights might at the time have seemed relevant—modern society is now concerned with the rising crime rate and questioning how to get tougher with the inmates."[5]

Notable quotes

  • Gallagher: Those gates only open three times. When you come in, when you've served your time, or when you're dead!
  • Dr. Walters: Force does make leaders. But you forget one thing: it also destroys them.


  1. ^ Brute Force at the Internet Movie Database.
  2. ^ Muller, Eddie. The Art of Noir, 271 pages; Overlook Hardcover, 2002. ISBN 1585670731.
  3. ^ Variety. Film review, 1947. Last accessed: March 30, 2008.
  4. ^ Crowthr, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, July 17, 1947. Last accessed: March 30, 2008.
  5. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, October 23, 2004. Last accessed: March 30, 2008.

External links

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