BRUTE FORCE hit with same in 1947, and retains blunt power many mean years down the line. Long before The Shawshank Redemption reminded us to leave the pokey off the bucket list, movies set in prisons were grim staples of the crime genre. But the blatant savagery in this one turned up the heat to blowtorch level—literally, as one of the first acts in the plot has that tool employed to goad a stoolpigeon into the maw of a king-sized industrial stamping machine. And this is done by the guys who’s side we’re tweaked to take! Rethink your scam plans.
“That’s why you’d never resign from this prison. Where else would you find so many helpless flies to stick pins into?”
Westgate Penitentiary. Convict ‘Joe Collins’ (Burt Lancaster) and his cellmates plot a breakout, desperate to get out from under the heel of ‘Capt. Munsey’ (Hume Cronyn), the sadistic head of security. The prison doctor is sympathetic, the warden ineffectual. Flashbacks reveal “the women on the outside” who for or because of Burt and his buddies all took their falls. The liberal-reformist part of the script—none of these guys are really guilty, and the bogus business with the dames, who range from sweet to slithery, is melodramatic tosh. Richard Brooks pounded out the screenplay off Robert Patterson’s story for producer and crime flick ace Mark Hellinger.
But the fight-for-life main frame in Munsey’s world of woe is fully compelling, thanks to the strong cast, the taut direction from Jules Dassin, William H. Daniel’s stark camerawork and a tense score summoned by Miklos Rozsa. The final riot conflagration is a classic. New hunk on the block Lancaster is rock solid in his next role after debuting in The Killers. The quartet of ’causes’ (Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth, Ella Raines and Anita Colby) are synthetic (inject “love” for extra box office insurance) but the guys in the cells and guard towers are a gallery of vivid supporting players. Cronyn’s waspish, Wagner-playing tyrant earns your hate and his fate. Charles Bickford is an old con who knows the ropes. Art Smith excels at the sage but drunken doctor, and Roman Bohnen as the warden does one of his numerous weaklings to a tee. Burt’s crew includes Howard Duff (debut), and a surprisingly buff John Hoyt (who knew?) and the lineup is stocked with familiar mugs, assaulting & battering their way into 53rd place in 1947 with a gross of $5,900,000.
With Sam Levene, Jack Overman, Whit Bissell, Jeff Corey, Ray Teal, Sir Lancelot, Jay C. Flippen, Frank Puglia, Charles McGraw, Glenn Strange. 98 minutes.