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BURT LANCASTER IN JULES DASSIN'S PRISON NOIR 'BRUTE FORCE'

BRUTE FORCE Year: 1947 Rating: ***1/2

Director Jules Dassin basically made his own post-war World War II picture, only set in an American hoosegow with prisoners as proverbial soldiers and an obvious Nazi representation in Hume Cronyn, who, as chief guard eyeing the warden spot, not only runs the place like a sadistic, tyrannical dictator, but mentally and physically tortures inmates while listening to Wagner...

Actually, BRUTE FORCE is a fairly effective prison noir/expose, bathed in rich B&W cinematography and splendid matte-painted backdrops, centered on desperate men stuck in a doomed purgatory: yet there are a few exterior flashbacks involving dames that, either sassy or sympathetic, landed these fellas into their current predicament...

Flashback fatale Anita Colby with John Hoyt in BRUTE FORCE

Surprisingly, the dime-novel detours... from Yvonne De Carlo as a wartime Italian to scene-stealer Anita Colby as a femme fatale named Flossie... never completely distract from the gritty mainline, actually providing effective breathing-room to a claustrophobic ensemble with a central lead played by Burt Lancaster, a brand new star from THE KILLERS... 

Burt's not only the toughest, coolest and best looking, he's the wisest of the crowded prisoners in a single cell made up of disgraced soldier Howard Duff; lowly-crook John Hoyt; an enigmatic Jeff Corey; resilient favor man Charles Bickford; a lovelorn White Bissell; idealistic would-be-scribbler Sam Levene; and mug-faced no-name Jack Overman, who actually looks the most roughshod authentic...

Jack Overman in BRUTE FORCE with Jeff Corey and Burt Lancaster

And while these beyond-capable actors turn in good performances, the supposed hard-edge lifers seem more like shrugged blue collar workers attempting an impossible union deal, making Hume Cronyn's borderline psychopath (having argued with a liberal shrink while slowly taking over for a passive warden) far too comparably treacherous, overboard and overcooked...

Meanwhile the most embarrassing, irritating and intrusive turn goes to real life Calypso singer Sir Lancelot, who randomly croons expository dialogue and yet, despite the flaws, an anticipated 11th hour breakout turned shootout makes up for sporadically lethargic melodrama in-between — but the real shame is this potentially explosive lockup thriller doesn't play equally down-and-dirty on both sides of the law.

Burt Lancaster and Howard Duff in BRUTE FORCE
Burt Lancaster in BRUTE FORCE
Charles Bickford in BRUTE FORCE
Hume Cronyn in BRUTE FORCE
Hume Cronyn in BRUTE FORCE
Ella Rains in BRUTE FORCE
Hume Cronyn in BRUTE FORCE with Jeff Corey and Howard Duff
Howard Duff and John Hoyt in BRUTE FORCE
Burt Lancaster in BRUTE FORCE
Yvonne De Carlo  and Howard Duff in BRUTE FORCE
Yvonne De Carlo  and Howard Duff in BRUTE FORCE
Burt Lancaster and Howard Duff in BRUTE FORCE
Burt Lancaster and Charles Bickford in BRUTE FORCE
Ann Blyth in BRUTE FORCE
Charles McGraw in BRUTE FORCE
Opening BRUTE FORCE
Anita Colby with John Hoyt in BRUTE FORCE
Anita Colby with John Hoyt in BRUTE FORCE
Anita Colby with John Hoyt in BRUTE FORCE
 Howland Chamberlain in BRUTE FORCE
Burt Lancaster in BRUTE FORCE
Burt Lancaster in BRUTE FORCE

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