17th Sep2014

‘Brute Force’ Blu-ray Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, Charles Bickford, Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth, Ella Raines, Anita Colby, Sam Levene, Jeff Corey, John Hoyt | Written by Richard Brooks | Directed by Jules Dassin


Prison movies are often dark and violent, not many want to show you that living behind bars is a fun choice to make. Brute Force though is a movie from 1947 done in a film noir style, which gives away just what to expect. One of Burt Lancaster’s earliest movies it is one that makes an interesting watch for fans of Hollywood history, which is probably why Arrow Video released it on Blu-ray under their Arrow Academy label.

Westgate Penitentiary is a hard prison where the guards and prisoners rule and the warden has little power within the walls. Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) wants to escape and with his hatred of Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn) this pushes him to come up with a plan. With Munsey’s dictatorial style of control over the prison though it won’t be easy for Collins or the other prisoners who join him on the drain pipe detail.

The noir style of the film is laid on thick in Brute Force even down to the stylised way the prisoners often talk. With flashbacks to the reason they ended up in prison we see some deserving of their time behind bars, and some not, the thing that connects them all is the fact they are under the control of Munsey. Hume Cronyn is very good as the guard oppressing the prisoners, his calm but menacing way of getting what he wants is manipulative and it’s obvious that director Jules Dassin is pushing the audience to see the comparison between he and Hitler, and Cronyn delivers in every scene.

The fact that Munsey wants to have control of the prison and usurp the warden comes as no surprise, but what does is the fact the system itself seems to welcome that the idea with open arms. Some guards and the doctor who works in the prison fight the system and attempt to help the inmates, but in truth there is not much they can do. Burt Lancaster’s character Joe is the typical anti-hero, yes he has done wrong but he has his reasons and the oppression inflicted on him is more way over proportionate that is fitting. Munsey sees the strength in Joe and this is something he detests, his inmates are meant to be fearful and weak, typical of a Lancaster character this is not something Joe will give.

Burt Lancaster really shines in this role and it shows that even early in his career this is the type of character that he plays so well. Fighting against the system his dreams of escape may put people at risk but his spirit pushes them on, his fight is not only for freedom but to fight against the system that is letting the prisoners down and that is the important thing. Alongside the film in the special features there is a nice documentary looking at the early career of Lancaster and for the historical look back at Hollywood in that time it’s very interesting to watch. Brute Force may be light on special features but they still add to the quality of the release.

I always like watching older movies that I’ve not had chance to watch and to see them in the best quality they can be seen in. Arrow Video provide Brute Force as expected, with excellent picture quality and it never lets you down. One for fans of Burt Lancaster and Hollywood classics, Brute Force still manages to deliver even after all these years.

****½  4.5/5

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek

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