Combustible Celluloid
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With: Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, Charles Bickford, Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth, Ella Raines, Anita Colby, Sam Levene, Jeff Corey, John Hoyt, Jack Overman, Roman Bohnen, Sir Lancelot, Vince Barnett, Jay C. Flippen, Richard Gaines, Frank Puglia, James Bell, Howard Duff, Art Smith, Whit Bissell
Written by: Richard Brooks, based on a story by Robert Patterson
Directed by: Jules Dassin
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 98
Date: 07/10/1947

Brute Force (1947)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Truth and Jail

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A breakthrough crime film for director Jules Dassin, Brute Force tells the story of a planned prison break led by the perpetually angry Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster). Hume Cronyn plays the evil Capt. Munsey, never hesitating to lie or sacrifice a stool pigeon to gain more power and take over the warden's desk. The film is hard and gripping, and it unfolds in realistic detail. The supporting cast is full of familiar faces, including Whit Bissell as the bespectacled embezzler, who is terrified of losing his wife (gorgeous Ella Raines), Jay C. Flippen as a burly guard, and the great Sir Lancelot (I Walked with a Zombie), singing most of his lines (and, unfortunately, the only dark-skinned character in the movie). As written by Richard Brooks, however, the movie suffers a bit from heavy moralizing, and it never quite feels as dangerous as it seems to want to be. Director Dassin and producer Mark Hellinger followed up Brute Force with The Naked City the following year.

The Criterion Collection released a meticulously restored Brute Force on Blu-ray for 2020, carrying over many of the extras from their 2007 DVD release. Bonuses include a commentary track by film-noir specialists Alain Silver and James Ursini, an interview with Paul Mason about the depiction of prison in movies, a video by David Bordwell about the various acting styles in the film, a trailer, and a stills gallery. The liner notes booklet includes an essay by Michael Atkinson, a profile of Hellinger from 1947, and rare correspondence between Hellinger and Production Code administrator Joseph Breen over the film’s content.

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