Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Day 301: Brute Force (1947) - Rank 5/5


From Jules Dassin, the man who impressed me with the gritty, masochistic nature of highway fruit stands in "Thieves' Highway," comes a film that could easily serve as a wonderful companion piece to "The Shawshank Redemption." A prison break is at the center of this stark masterpiece, but unlike so many of its dime-a-dozen brethren that spawned out of Hollywood in the thirties through fifties, "Brute Force" really has an edge. That jagged sense of tension is due to the well-calculated direction of Dassin and the performances of Burt Lancaster and Hume Cronyn.

Lancaster is Joe Collins, a rough and tumble thug who spends half of his prison time in solitary for disorderly conduct and the occasional, well-orchestrated "accident" that results in the death of other inmates. When he organizes a prison break that sounds feasible, despite the alleged perfection of the facility, he gather a crew and sets it into motion (with the likes of Jeff Corey, Edmond O'Brien and Whit Bissel playing fellow cons). Little does he know that Captain Munsey and his guards are well aware of the break and see it as the perfect opportunity to receive carte blanc on the cruelty they can administer. Cronyn threw me for a loop with his reserved, yet sadistic performance. Cronyn mercilessly beats one prisoner while he drives another to suicide without flinching, giving Clancy Brown's Byron Hadley (the head guard in "Shawshank") a run for his money. Pitted against Lancaster, who delivers his performance like a knotted fist and you've got one tense, but badass movie.

Watch the Trailer

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