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Brute Force (The Criterion Collection)

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

As hard-hitting as its title, Brute Force was the first of Jules Dassin’s forays into the crime genre, a prison melodrama that takes a critical look at American society as well. Burt Lancaster is the timeworn Joe Collins, who, along with his fellow inmates, lives under the heavy thumb of the sadistic, power-tripping guard Captain Munsey (a riveting Hume Cronyn). Only Collins’s dreams of escape keep him going, but how can he possibly bust out of Munsey’s chains? Matter-of-fact and ferocious, Brute Force builds to an explosive climax that shows that man’s desperation for freedom knows no bounds.

Jules Dassin's brooding, brutal drama about a prison wound to the breaking point by a sadistic captain of the guards is a classic film noir as well as one of the greatest prison films ever made. Burt Lancaster (in only his third film but already commanding the screen like a pro) is the savvy prison veteran whose clashes with Hume Cronyn (the ambitious guard with a god complex) land him first in solitary then in the claustrophobic drain pipe, a muddy, airless work detail that slowly kills every man assigned to it. With the help of his cellmate buddies and former gangland boss Charles Bickford he hatches a plan to break out, but Cronyn has his own plans for the unbreakable prisoner. Dassin's oppressive prison is thick with atmosphere: cavernous buildings and halls that echo with the footsteps of inmates and the clanking of bars, overcrowded cells that seem to close in on the men, a busy machine shop where the film's most memorable scene takes place--the ruthless assassination of a stoolie in a pounding metal press. Cinematographer William Daniels, a master of Hollywood's soft-focus glamour, creates a harsh, hard-edged look for the film, softened only by looming shadows. A sense of doom hovers over everything, culminating in an explosive finale, but the barbaric, brutish violence hangs in the air long after the film is over. --Sean Axmaker

On the DVD
Criterion's beautiful restored print of Brute Force is accompanied by a small collection of supporting materials, including a commentary track by longtime film noir experts Alain Silver and James Ursini. They give a good brief on the film's history, such as the disagreements between producer Mark Hellinger and director Jules Dassin on the subject of the movie's use of flashbacks--an approach that would break the claustrophobia of the prison sequences and introduce female characters. Hellinger wanted the backstory, Dassin objected, and the producer won; but the point is definitely arguable. Prison-movie specialist Paul Mason gives a useful 15-minute talk, partly on Brute Force and partly on the genre of prison movies. Criterion's booklet has an excellent essay by critic Michael Atkinson, a vintage 1947 profile of the colorful columnist-turned-producer Hellinger, and an intriguing, bitter exchange of letters between Hellinger and Production Code chief Joseph Breen on the subject of the film's censorship problems. --Robert Horton

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, Charles Bickford, Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth
  • Directors: Jules Dassin
  • Writers: Richard Brooks, Robert Patterson
  • Producers: Jules Buck, Mark Hellinger
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: April 17, 2007
  • Run Time: 98 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,864 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Brute Force (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By mirasreviews HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 29, 2005
Format: DVD
"Brute Force" is one of the most violent film noirs of the classic era, as well as one of the most pessimistic -and this is after some violence was removed to comply with the Production Code. The story takes place within the confines of Westgate Penitentiary, an overcrowded prison whose deficient living conditions and sadistic guards make the inmates' lives nearly unbearable. Prison life is no less than a war between the inmates and guard Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn), who routinely uses blackmail and torture to control the prisoners. When the warden revokes all the inmates' privileges in response to the deaths of two men, inmate Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) hatches a violent and risky escape plan with his cellmates and a senior, well-respected prisoner named Gallagher (Charles Bickford).

Director Jules Dessin doesn't let a glimmer of hope into this film. The violence is brutal and wholly without sentiment or regret. The utter hopelessness of the situation in the prison is overwhelming. Brute force is the only means in Westgate Penitentiary. The standout performance is by Hume Cronyn as the Nazi-inspired Captain Munsey, an unabashed sadist who uses social Darwinism to rationalize absolute dominance of the prisoners, who are, after all, behind bars, not free to challenge him. The prison doctor, a disgraced surgeon named Walters (Art Smith), numbs himself with alcohol and articulates the film's themes. "Do you know what this prison is?" he says. "One big human bomb!"

The film is a little too long, and the flashback scenes of wives and girlfriends are superfluous. This is perhaps the most blatantly existential film noir. It takes the position of Sartrean philosophy, articulated by Dr. Walters, which is juxtaposed with Nietzschean philosophy, articulated by Capt. Munsey.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. Lovins HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on December 12, 2010
Format: DVD
The Criterion Collection presents "BRUTE FORCE" (30 June 1947) (98 min/B&W) (Fully Restored/Dolby Digitally Remastered) -- Burt Lancaster had one of his first starring roles in this hard-hitting prison drama --- Capt. Munsey (Hume Cronyn) is a cruel, corrupt prison guard who has his own less-than-ethical ways of dealing with inmates, enough so that Joe Collins (Lancaster) - the toughest inmate in the cell block - has decided to break out --- Collins tries to persuade Gallagher (Charles Bickford), the unofficial leader of the inmates and editor of the prison newspaper, to join him, but Gallagher thinks Collins' plan won't work --- However, Collins does have the support of his cellmates, most of whom, like himself, wandered into a life of crime thanks to love and good intentions --- Collins pulled a bank job to raise money to pay for an operation that could possibly get his girl out of a wheelchair --- Fabulous score by composer Miklós Rózsa.

Top flight power performance from Burt --- and the rest is history!

Under the production staff of:
Jules Dassin [Director]
Richard Brooks [Screenwriter]
Robert Patterson [Story]
Jules Buck [Associate Producer].
Mark Hellinger [Producer]
Miklós Rózsa [Original Film Score]
William H. Daniels [Cinematographer]
Edward Curtiss [Film Editor]

1. Jules Dassin [Director]
Date of Birth: 18 December 1911 - Middletown, Connecticut
Date of Death: 31 March 2008 - Athens, Greece

2. Burt Lancaster (aka: Burton Stephen Lancaster)
Date of Birth: 2 November 1913 - New York City, New York
Date of Death: 20 October 1994 - Century City, California

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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ms.Beyonce on April 7, 2006
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
"BRUTE FORCE", ever since I first saw it on TV forty years ago,has been one of my favorite films.Directed with great vigor by Julues Dassin,it tells the story of "the men on the inside",and "the women on the outside.Burt Lancaster,Jeff Corey,Howard Duff,and John Hoyt,are some of the men "on the inside",Ann Blyth,Ella Raines,Anita Colby,and Yvonne DeCarlo are the woman on" the outside".Hume Cronyn gives a masterfull performance as the sadistic,fascist Caption of the guards.All the male characters, which also includes Charles Bickford,Sam Levine,and Roman Bohnen (as Warden Barnes) are oustanding,the women less so.This is not an easy DVD to get,so I wish someone maybe Universal,the original releasing company,would come out with a full-length commetary,with a special emphasis ,on the political repercussions that were felt by many members of the cast and crew of this and other left-leaning films.The films message is definitily anti-capitalist.The film rates 5 Stars,the DVD,with no special features rates a 3 and half Star rating.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By K. N. VINE VOICE on January 1, 2009
Format: DVD
Long before *The Green Mile* and *Prison Break*, the French director Jules Dassin made *Brute Force*, a melodrama about men's lives in a prison system intent less on social rehabilitation and more on draconian punishment. The film's liberal-humanist approval of rehabilitation is movingly captured by the inmates' flashbacks to their lives before prison: men struggling to do good for their girlfriends, wives, and families. These men are pit against Hume Cronyn's unforgettable Captain Munsey, a power-hungry social Darwinist and Westgate Penitentiary's shrewd enforcer of the institutional code. In the conflict between the inmates and Munsey, Dassin crafts an affecting narrative about heroism, survival, and postwar American masculinity.

The Criterion transfer is crisp and clear. William Daniels's black-and-white cinematography is particularly resonant in the shadowy nighttime scenes that take place behind the prison's walls. This edition of the movie also features a few illuminating extras, including commentary by noir specialists Alain Silver and James Ursini as well as an interview with Paul Mason on *Brute Force*'s importance in the history of film representations of prison life.

While parts of the movie can be melodramatically overwrought (e.g., during the flashback sequences), *Brute Force* is a landmark of film noir and prison cinema, and is well worth watching in this powerful Criterion edition.
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