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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Brute Force (1947)



Reviews and Comments

"You know, I was just thinking. An insurance company could go flat broke in this prison."

In 1947, Brute Force was sharply criticized for its gritty violence. While not so shocking by today's desensitized standards, it's nevertheless jarring to see such brutality in a film from the forties. But one can't criticize it; the movie's use of violence is used to build an atmosphere appropriate to the dark, hard-edged prison movie that it is.

Burt Lancaster plays the lead role of an inmate stedfastly determined to escape. Hume Cronyn plays the sadistic chief guard with a performance so chilling, it defined the stereotype. The story is about the prisoners in cell R-17, what got them into prison in the first place, and their plans to get out.

Moments in this film are ingenious. The prison atmosphere is thick, created in part by well-crafted black and white cinematography. I liked the discussion of the cell's resident calendar girl and how it wasn't the picture itself the men appreciated but that it reminded them of their respective loved ones. I liked the few flashbacks that told how the men got into prison in the first place and particularly how the flashbacks ended at the moment when the viewer realizes (rather than sees) the complete story. The final pan past cell R-17 at the film's conclusion is sobering.

Sadly, there are also moments of clumsiness. Here and there, the acting (mostly by the co-stars) is stifled, the dialogue stilted, and some of the characters aren't fleshed out quite satisfactorily. As such, this is a good prison movie but not the classic it might have been.