Brute Force

Behind the grim walls of Westgate Prison, convicts are stuffed six to a cell. Under the sadistic rule of Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn), the implicit violence of this pitiless place can become very real as the random thwack of the billy club resounds through the halls. In cell R-17, Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster with steadfast exuberance) plans for the day he'll be on the outside. Until then, his rage is barely contained. “We're buried, ain't we?” he says to his forsaken cellmates. “Only thing is we ain't dead.” This is the gritty film Jules Dassin (Night and the City) made before the blacklist sent him packing. The prison with its brutal leadership recalls a political climate in which fear and force are applied indiscriminately. Numbed by their own despair, the prisoners, with Joe as their fatalistic hero, can find their only liberation in violent outburst. Shot in the cruelest of noir contrasts, Brute Force prods the pathology of prison until the convicts become “one big human bomb.”

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