Thursday, 11 September 2014

Brute Force Dual Format Review

Review By
Patrick Scattergood

Written By
Robert Patterson
Richard Brooks

Directed By
Jules Dassin

A Universal - International Film

Drama, Crime


Burt Lancaster as Joe Collins
Hume Cronyn as Capt. Munsey
Charles Bickford as Gallagher
Yvonne De Carlo as Gina Ferrara
Ann Blyth as Ruth
Ella Raines as Cora Lister
Anita Colby as Flossie
Sam Levene as Louie Miller
Jeff Corey as 'Freshman' Stack
John Hoyt as Spencer
Roman Bohnen as Warden A.J. Barnes

Year Released



Before making the French crime classic Rififi, Jules Dassin was arguably the greatest of film noir directors, responsible for a string of gems including The Naked City, Thieves’ Highway and Night and the City. Brute Force kickstarted that run of pictures and never did a film live up to its name more.

Burt Lancaster is Joe Collins, one of a number of convicts squeezed into cell R17 intent on staging a prison break. Not only does he need to return to the side of his cancer-ridden wife (Ann Blyth), he also wants to escape the clutches of sadistic warden Captain Munsey (an unforgettable performance from Hume Cronyn) who enjoys a reign of terror over the inmates.
Beautifully shot by the great William H. Daniels, tautly written by Richard Brooks (Blackboard Jungle, In Cold Blood) and impeccably acted by its ensemble of noir familiars, Brute Force remains a prison movie classic.

Special Features
  •  Burt Lancaster: The Film Noir Years – an in-depth look at the actor’s early career by Kate Buford, author of Burt Lancaster: An American Life
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Stills gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring the original poster and newly commissioned artwork by Reinhard Kleist
  • Collector’s booklet containing new writing on the film by Frank Krutnik, author of In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity, and Swell Guy, an obituary of Brute Force’s producer, Mark Hellinger, by its screenwriter, Richard Brooks, illustrated with original stills

Arrow Films have gotten a great reputation for releasing classic movie, not only with cleaned up transfers but also with a stack of special features too.  One of the things that Arrow Films does well is that they take movies that you may have heard about but not gotten a chance to see and treats them as well as they would a major league timeless classic.

With that in mind, I slipped this early Burt Lancaster movie in to my Blu-ray player and sat with bated breath to see just how good a job they could have done with this 1940's crime drama.  I must say that the first thing that struck me was just how brilliant a job they had done not only with the picture but with the sound too.

Considering the movie is nearly 70 years old, the picture is sharp and the sound is crystal clear, which is just as well when you hear the utterly superb score by Miklos Rozsa.  I can honestly say that the score here is some of Rozsa's best work and fits the movie perfectly.

One of the things that you will notice with this movie is the dark and brooding brutality of the movie isn't shot in the normal standard of most other 1940's movies.  The actors are light and filmed at random angles, the action is shot from places you really wouldn't expect and that really helps to give you a feeling of being involved in the lives of the prisoners themselves.

A lot of that must be placed firmly on the shoulders of the cast.  In one of his earliest movies, Lancaster does a stand up job as Collins.  You don't really learn all that much about his character, other than a few nods here and there to his use of violence as well as his wanting to break out to be by the side of his dying girlfriend.  After all of that, you don't really think of him as the stereotypical good guy but that's part of the point of this movie.  While the rest of the characters do get flashbacks, which seem like a bit of an excuse to get some female cast members in to an otherwise all male movie, it's not really about their lives outside of the prison.  Instead the movie deals with who the people are while inside the jails unforgiving walls.

That said, there is one character that stands out above all others in this movie and considering it has the legendary Burt Lancaster in it, that's not an easy feat.  Hume Cronyn completely owns the movie as the warden with a sadist streak a mile wide and absolutely no morals.  The sheer feeling of dread and menace whenever he is on the screen is palpable and utterly brilliant.

Special features wise, it's definitely a case of quality over quantity here.  There may not be a lot here for the classic movie fans but the things that Arrow Films have included really do hook the viewer in.  There were even quite a few bits of information that I didn't even know about Lancaster and his early movies.  That, to me, more than makes this worth picking up.

All in all, this is a brilliantly made and shot prison drama that will hook you in right up to the brutal and haunting ending.  There really is a feeling throughout the movie that something bad is going to happen, even worse than some of the things that are even happening to them already, so when the movie builds to its crescendo it really hits you.

An essential purchase, especially if you're a fan of the legendary Burt Lancaster.

Movie 9/10
Picture 8.5/10
Sound 8.5/10
Special Features 8/10
Overall 34/40

1 comment:

  1. When the Group Theater (1931-40)--the first American acting company to attempt to put the Russian Konstantin Stanislavski's principles into action--disbanded, many of the actors who had participated in its revolutionary realistic productions on Broadway ("Awake and Sing" "Waiting for Lefty") made their way to Hollywood in search of work. Two of them--Roman Bohnen ("Warden") and Art Smith ("Dr. Walters")--can be seen in this film. As several of the actors in The Group had been members of the Communist Party or "leftist" organizations, they would soon be blacklisted during the "Red Scare" era of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's search for "subversives" in the entertainment industry, one of whom was the director of this film, Jules Dassin. A year before this film was released, Kazan--who had appeared before the McCarthyite House UnAmerican Activities Committee and "named names"--happened to be in Hollywood and saw a production of one of Tennessee Williams' early plays, "Portrait of a Madonna", directed by Hume Cronyn, who plays the sadistic Capt. Munsey in this film. Kazan was so impressed by the work of Cronyn's wife, Jessica Tandy, that he offered her the role of Blanche Dubois in his Broadway production of "A Streetcar Named Desire." To make an even more strange connection to Kazan, in Dennis Stock's iconic 1955 LIFE photo essay on James Dean, there is a photograph of Dean standing in front of a faded advert for "Brute Force" painted on a wall in the Times Square area of New York City.
    Considering the shock that it's violence created in audiences in 1947, one could conceivably draw a straight line to the exact same kind of reaction when Alan Parker's "Midnight Express" was released in the fall of 1978, considering it was an equally savage indictment of incarceration in it's own time.