Brute Force (Dassin, 1947)

Brute Force is a hard as nails prison film from Noir master Jules Dassin, oozing with the pain and suffering of the inmates (Burt Lancaster and co.) who’re often mentally and physically stymied by the iron fist of a manipulative lead guard (Hume Cronyn in a masterful performance). Dassin uses flashbacks to explain the “why’s” behind each player’s imprisonment, giving them depth while also showing their complex road to hell. It’s the system and bureaucracy which come under fire – startling examples within the mise-en-scene include six men cramped in a cell, deathly work conditions, and terrible food. Brute Force savagely condemns the entire operation, everyone on down from the weak warden, to the tyrannical yet not evil guards, to the desperate convicts, but with a sense of good intentions lingering in the fog. Through the countless shots of shadows drifting off the prison bars, one can glean a sense of horror from the inaction and misunderstanding involved, and in turn the tension of dangerous men rising toward meltdown.

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