Brute Force

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Brute Force

From 1947 to 1950, director Jules Dassin stood at the forefront of American film noir, directing a slew of harsh, visually innovative dramas (Thieves' Highway, Night And The City, Naked City) that captured the cynicism and malaise of an America whose foundations had been rocked by WWII. Brute Force, from 1947, is technically more of a prison film than a film noir, but it's nevertheless imbued with film noir's weary fatalism and reckless moral ambiguity. A young, intimidatingly handsome Burt Lancaster stars as the quiet, charismatic leader of a cell-block full of prisoners eager to revolt against despotic prison security chief Hume Cronyn. At the same time, the prison bureaucracy itself is undergoing a power struggle, as crypto-fascist Cronyn squares off against the prison's world-weary, boozy psychiatrist for the soul of ineffectual chief warden Roman Bohnen. Much of the film's tension is derived from a similar power struggle, as its politically progressive, sympathetic portrayal of the prisoners squares off against the Hays Code's insistence that all moral transgressions be punished and conventional morality be upheld. Brilliantly photographed by William H. Daniels, Brute Force is both a humanistic personal drama and a bravura piece of genre filmmaking. Countless prison films since Brute Force have had the benefit of being able to depict explicit violence and gore, but few scenes in any prison film before or since have delivered the visceral impact it packs into its brilliant climax. Tough, smart, and humane, Brute Force is one of the greatest prison films of all time.