Sunday, June 8, 2008

Jules Dassin's "Brute Force" (1947)

Ever since I saw Rififi I knew Jules Dassin was something special. It was a long time before I saw another Dassin film. That film was The Naked City. After that tour de force noir set on the streets of New York City I immediately put the three other films from that amazing five film stretch on my Netflix queue. The results? Amazing. Brute Force is an intense prison noir that stars Burt Lancaster as the toughest inmate in the joint. Hume Cronyn plays the devilish role of guard Capt. Munsey. The two go head to head in a psychological and physical battle of strengths and weaknesses.

This film pays the closest attention to a small group of men in one certain cell block. The cell block belonging to Joe Collins (Lancaster) and company. The film opens with a tone that perfectly captures the bleakness that would carry on throughout the rest of this powerful film. Joe Collins returns to his cell after time spent in solitary. He returns with a plan, a plan to get out. From there, the plot escalates. There's more to this story than these prisoners trying to escape though. Capt. Munsey is as corrupt as can be. When the warden comes under pressure from the higher ups, drastic measures must be taken, and the mens' privileges are taken away. This puts the men into action. I personally loved the way Dassin portrayed Cronyn. He used Hume's acting abilities to the fullest. He plays that sniveling ass character so god damn perfect and Dassin picked up on that keenly. This wages a wear not only among inmates and him but other characters like the doc, the warden, and him.

Jules Dassin did something I liked and didn't like with this film though. The flashback scenes are what I am referring to here. In one sense, they were a great addition to the characterization of the inmates in Joe Collins cell. Without these flashbacks the viewer may not really be able to understand the men. Also, the fact that these men were all hoping and dreaming to get out of prison just to be with the ones they love so much adds a deep sympathetic feeling to the film. On the other hand though, the flashbacks felt at time a little misplaced and shifted the film from the tense, brutality driven film it is to something else. In my opinion though, the addition of these flashbacks are for the good, as they make you care much, much more for the characters.

This all connects to this films high point, the conclusion. This is where Collins and his partners attempt the break out. This is one of the most intense, disturbing, brutal, and spectacularly shot scenes from this era of film making. Jules Dassin created pure pandemonium among the cell inmates and Burt Lancaster's star quality pushed it over the limit. I don't want to spoil anything for pursuing viewers as this end is legitimately shocking and thrilling in terms of what goes down and who goes down.

Jules Dassin will always be one of the most under appreciated directors in the whole realm of cinema. He was always able to create that perfect memorable and remarkable moment that after such intense build up would never escape the viewers mind. Brute Force is no different. I haven't seen many prison based films but I doubt there are many that can top this effort from Dassin. Yes, that includes The Shawshank Redemption. Without Brute Force, "Shawshank" may not exist.


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