Burt Lancaster is a force to reckon with in Brute Force. He plays a rebellious convict in a prison with a manipulative, psychotic captain of the guards (Hume Cronyn), who tortures prisoners while a weak trusting warden fails to intervene.
It is a brutal story of six men in one small cell & the guard captain who has a special need to cause injury to that particular group of cellmates because of their association with Joe Collins played by Lancaster as the one man who cannot be broken.
It is a film with considerable compassion. One by one we are shown in flashbacks bits of the lives & loves of these men before they were imprisoned. When it gets round to one doozy of a bloodbath climax, we know these men well enough to really care what happens, & Joe's revenge, which plays like a miniature of King Kong of on the Empire State Building, is especially satisfying.
This savagely gritty film made Lancaster into a star, & like Cagney's White Heat which it pre-dates, Brute Force has not aged a day. Dassin was one of the genius directors who managed to do fine work within the Hollywood system. And it was understood in retrospect by film historians that Dassin helped to define film noir.
But he got caught up in Joseph McCarthy's witchhunts, & ended up making his best film, Rififi, while exiled in Europe. Even Brute Force was filmed under pressure while he was in England & the Hollywood blacklist had not quite yet crept all the way to London. He well knew what was coming, & he put such energy into the film that it might have stood as a fine coda to his career had it been the last thing he ever directed.
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