Thursday, June 20, 2019

Brute Force

1947, US, directed by Jules Dassin

A film that lives up to its title, depicting the constant, claustrophobic drumbeat of violence, both psychological and physical, in prison. The characters are never unaware of the restrictions under which they operate, whether it's the bars on their cells, or the (often arbitrary) rules with which they must comply. Dassin's framing, as in the picture above, is often very strong, quickly delineating the free and unfree zones. The film isn't as strong in its social analysis sections, inventing a somewhat unconvincing context in which several characters debate the meaning and utility of prison; it's much stronger down in the bowels with the men, and the tick-tock sense of a bomb about to explode. Burt Lancaster, in one of his earliest roles, is already every inch the star, commanding the screen. The decision to cast Hume Cronyn as the sadistic warder is a stroke of genius, though he's alarmingly into it at times.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States