Brute Force (1947)

brute force poster 1947 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Good cast, slightly different than some prison stories, grittier than expected

Still has a lot of prison cliches which probably weren't necessarily cliches when the film was made

Movie Info

Movie Name: Brute Force

Studio:  Mark Hellinger Productions

Genre(s): Drama/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s):  July 10, 1947 (Premiere)/August 1947 (US)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

brute force burt lancaster

You in? Or are you out?

The prisoners of Westgate Prison live under the thumb of the chief of security Captain Munsey (Hume Cronym).  When Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) is released from solitary after taking the fall for contraband, he has had enough.  Joe is planning to escape Westgate Prison despite the odds, and he is assembling a team of others who feel wronged by the system.  Captain Munsey sees the prison’s unrest as a means to unseat Warden A.J. Barnes (Roman Bohnen), but the prison doctor Walters (Art Smith) realizes unrest is brewing.

Directed by Jules Dassin, Brute Force is a prison action-thriller drama.  The film is loosely based on events of the Battle of Alcatraz which occurred in 1946 and received positive reviews upon its release.  Much of the original film was lost over the years due to break down of the nitrate film, but the Criterion Collection released a restored and remastered version of the film (Criterion #383) assembled by the TLEFilms Film Restoration & Preservation Services.

Prison movies generally feel the same.  You often have an innocent character who despite his or her lot in life believes in finding the freedom that they deserve.  Brute Force isn’t like those films and feels different as a result.

brute force hume cronyn jailer abuse

Tell me again that you didn’t like Cocoon…I dare you!!!

No one in the prison in Brute Force is innocent, but that doesn’t mean that they are all heathen killers that deserve no respect.  All of the characters admit to their crimes, and many deserve further punishment while in prison due to crimes committed within the walls…but the punishment doesn’t always fit the crime.  Sent as free labor to excavate tunnels (if they have misbehaved), those who enter the tunnels often come out as corpses.  It is a wicked situation that leads to unrest and more death.  The prison break doesn’t go as planned, but the failings of the break still have a sense of power for Joe and his cause.  The film does have prison film clichés but they might not have been clichés when the movie was made.

The cast is good.  Lancaster is tough, and he is dangerous.  He eliminates the man who planted a shiv on him by having the man killed by his friends in a horrible way.  He also is concerned about his dying wife who refuses to get surgery while he’s in prison.  The contrast is Hume Cronym who plans a jailer with few morals.  He walks all over the warden who he is plotting to unseat and cruelty is more of his goal than incarceration…he likes to use and control his prisoners (and with Hume it is power because Cronym is not the most intimidating figure).  The “everyman” is the doctor played by Art Smith who is also frustrated by what he has seen (and turned to drinking), but he sees both sides of the debate and tries to head off the problem that is rising.  Calypso singer Sir Lancelot also has a role in the film as an almost narrator through song which gives the film a bit of a surreal feeling at times.

brute force snitch dies prsion

Lesson learned…don’t be a snitch

The movie is very gritty.  Despite being made in 1947, the end of the movie is a slaughterfest.  The prisoners who are pinned down in their escape attempt face machine guns, bombs, and fire in their efforts to breach the prison walls.  A particularly grueling death happens to a snitch who finds himself strapped to the front of a mine car and facing a machine gun.

Brute Force was a rather good movie and though I’m assuming that prisons have changed over the years, a lot of the base problems still exist.  With a group being subjugated (right or wrong), you’re going to have people who abuse power, secretly control power, and those caught up in everything despite attempts to steer clear.  The characters try to take the prison by “brute force”, but the bigger “brute force” keeps everyone down.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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