Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Burt Lancaster leads with "Brute Force"

Brute Force (1947) is an American film noir directed by Jules Dassin and starring Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, and Charles Bickford. The film also stars Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth, and Ella Raines. The screenplay was by Richard Brooks, the cinematography was by William H. Daniels, and the music was by Miklos Rozsa.

After returning from solitary confinement, Joe Collins (Lancaster) plans his escape from Westgate Prison, along with some of his fellow prisoners. Along with his plans for escape, are his plans to get even with Captain Munsey (Cronyn) the sadistic chief of security.

Jules Dassin (1911 – 2008) was an American film director. He got work as an assistant director at RKO and then moved to M-G-M where he directed short subjects. Dassin directed the film noir classics Brute Force (1947), The Naked City (1948), and Thieves’ Highway (1949). He was blacklisted because of his once being a member of the Communist Party so he left the United States for Europe where remained for the rest of his life. He was married to Greek film actress Melina Mercouri.

Burt Lancaster (1913- 1994) was an American actor and producer. He won a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in Elmer Gantry (1960). Lancaster made his film debut in The Killers (1946). After the release of that film, he was on his way as a leading man, starring in quick succession Desert Fury (1947), Brute Force (1947), Variety Girl (1947), I Walk Alone (1947), All My Sons (1948), and Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). Other popular films starring Lancaster include The Flame and the Arrow (1950), Jim Thorpe All-American (1951), From Here to Eternity (1953), The Rose Tattoo (1955), and Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).

Hume Cronyn (1911 - 2003) was a Canadian film and stage actor, as well as a writer. He and his wife Jessica Tandy often worked together on stage, film, and television. Cronyn's first film role was in Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943), which began a long working relationship with the famed director. Cronyn appeared in Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944) and worked on the screenplays of Rope (1948) and Under Capricorn (1949). In 1944 he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in The Seventh Cross. Other Cronyn films include The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Sunrise of Campobello (1960), and  Cleopatra (1963).

Charles Bickford (1891 - 1967) was an American actor who is best remembered for his supporting roles in films like The Farmer's Daughter (1947), Johnny Belinda (1948),  A Star is Born (1954), and The Big Country (1958). Bickford was nominated for three Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards between 1943 - 1948. During the 1950s and 1960s, Bickford staring appearing on television on shows like Wagon Trian, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, and The Virginian.

To watch the film on YouTube click the link below.

To join the discussion on March 21, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you'll receive an invitation and link to join the discussion on Zoom.

Why watch this film?
  • We see a superstar in the making, Burt Lancaster in only his second film role.
  • One of director Jules Dassin's best films.
  • There are several actors who made their film debuts and went on to long careers in film and television including Howard Duff and Whit Bissell.
  • We get to see Ann Blyth play sweet and innocent after playing the daughter from hell in Mildred Pierce.

Brute Force trivia

  • Inspired by an incident at Alcatraz in 1946. A riot at the prison lasted for two days.
  • The film was considered shocking in its day due to the on-screen violence.
  • The movie the prisoners watch is The Egg and I, starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray which was released the same year as Brute Force.
  • Film debuts of Whit Bissell and Howard Duff.

Discussion questions:

  1. What was your overall impression of the film?
  2. This was Burt Lancaster's second film; what did you think of his performance?
  3. Was Hume Cronyn believable as the sadistic Captain Munsey?
  4. Did anything about the film surprise you?
  5. Did this film check most of the film noir boxes?


  1. Good stuff, Stephen! I didn't realize that the movie was inspired by a real-life incident. It's interesting to note that the violence was shocking back in the day -- I think it's just as shocking in 2022! I can't think of many classic films that have so many films of horrible deaths.

  2. I'll be interest to see how other folks react to the violence. It is not as explicit as films today but it is still pretty shocking. As you said, many horrible deaths in this film. And you know they just tore Hume Cronyn's character limb from limb! Thanks for stopping by!


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