The Men of Brute Force (1947)

Brute Force (1947) takes place in a men’s penetentiary and focuses on a group of cellmates who plan and execute a prison break, driven primarily by their desire to escape the torturous treatment of a sadistic guard.  The cellmates, who are continuously tormented and dehumanized, find solace only in gazing at the picture of a pin-up girl in their cell, which reminds them of the women they left behind. Given the setting of the film, it stands to reason that the cast is primarily peopled by men – there are only a few women in it with small roles, including Ann Blyth, Yvonne DeCarlo, and Ella Raines. Directed by Jules Dassin and produced by Mark Hellinger, the film was lauded by critics upon its release – in a typical notice, the reviewer for Newsweek termed the picture “a forceful, even sadistic melodrama with moments of terrifying action and a climax that will raise the hackles on your neck.”

Today’s post takes a look at the film’s male cast, which consisted of an outstanding group of actors that included Burt Lancaster, Howard Duff, and Jeff Corey. Read on!

The men of cell R17

The men of cell R17

Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster)

The leader of the group of disgruntled inmates, Joe is spurred to break out of prison by his desire to return to his sweet, sensitive girlfriend, Ruth (Ann Blyth). Ruth has cancer and is confined to a wheelchair, but refuses to have a life-saving operation unless Joe is by her side.

Favorite quote:  “Everything’s okay? What’s okay? Nothing’s okay. It never was and it never will be. Not ‘til we’re out. You get that? Out.”

Soldier (Howard Duff)

Soldier was earnest and intense – a fitting match for his Italian wife, Gina (Yvonne DeCarlo), who shot and killed her own father when he tried to turn Solider in to military policemen during the war. Her earnest and intense husband took the blame for the crime.

Favorite quote:  “Ever since the war, I’ve been trying to get back to a little town in Italy. But, you know how the breaks go. With me, one rap led to another. Anyway, I was never able to make it. Maybe this time.”

Spencer gives a ride to the not-so-nice Flossie.

Spencer gives a ride to the not-so-nice Flossie.

Spencer (John Hoyt)

A good-humored and loquacious ladies’ man, Spencer demonstrated that he could be as hard-boiled as they come when he took the lead in fostering the grisly death of a stool-pigeon inmate.

Favorite quote: “Flossie had looks, brains and all the accessories. She was better than a deck with six aces. But I regret to report that she also knew how to handle a gun My gun.”

Tom Lister (Whit Bissell)

A quiet, reflective chap, Tom was imprisoned after embezzling funds to buy a fur coat for his wife, Cora (Ella Raines). When he’s told that she is divorcing him, well – let’s just say he doesn’t take it well.

Tom, his wife, and that blasted fur coat.

Tom, his wife, and that blasted fur coat.

Favorite quote: “Darling, the way we were going – you wanting things, things you oughta have. And me strapped all the time – we were heading for a split-up. Don’t you see? I just had to do it.”

Freshman (Jeff Corey)

Freshman was shifty-eyed and on the quiet side, but there was no one more loyal or trustworthy. Was there?

Favorite quote: “About that stool pigeon – we made arrangements.”

Kid Coy (Jack Overman)

An ex-boxer,  and a little on the dim side, he was the newcomer to the cell occupied by Joe, Tom, Soldier, and Freshman, after their former cellmate died due to a particularly grueling punishment meted out by Munsey.

Favorite quote:  “What goes between you guys and this dame? It’s enough to give somebody the creeps. You fellas smilin’ at her picture. Throwin’ kisses at her. You might think she was real!”

Capt. Munsey prepares to do a little convincing.

Capt. Munsey prepares to do a little convincing.

Capt. Munsey (Hume Cronyn)

Sadistic and merciless for no apparent reason, Munsey made the inmates address him as “Sir,” tormented them psychologically, employed blackmail to receuit inmates as informers, and resorted to physical violence when it suited his purposes.

Favorite quote: “That’s what I like to see in a man. Stability. Fidelity. You’re right, Lister, we’re both wasting our time. Me, by talking to you, and you, by writing to your wife.”

Gallagher (Charles Bickford)

The elder statesman of the prison, highly respected by the men as well as the warden, Gallagher is initially unwilling to risk his promised parole by participating in the planned prison break, but he joins the group when this lawful form of escape is inexplicably snatched from him.

Favorite quote:  “I been here six years. Know how many propositions I’ve had to crack the wall? Six thousand. They’re on tap all the time.”

Warden Barnes (right) with Munsey and Dr. Walters.

Warden A.J. Barnes (Roman Bohnen)

The prison’s warden was weak-willed and ineffectual, caving to pressure when his job was on the line.

Favorite quote: “Gallagher, I’ve tried my best to do the right thing by the men, but It’s just no use! I’m convinced now that what’s needed here is not more charity, but more discipline!”

Louie Miller (Sam Levene)

A reporter on the prison newspaper and an all-around stand-up guy, Louie proved to be a minor but pivotal part of the prison break.

“You can hit me. You can keep on hitting me. But I don’t know what you want.”

Dr. Walters (Art Smith)

The well-meaning doctor for the prison, Walters was sympathetic to the inmates’ plight, but his efforts were disregarded and in response, he drowned his helplessness in alcohol.

Favorite quote: “You’re obvious, Munsey. Your every move is obvious. You’ve cheated. You’ve lied. You’ve murdered. You’re worse than the worst inmates of this prison. You’re the psychopath here, not they.”

Calypso served as the tuneful narrator and commentator for the film.

Calypso served as the tuneful narrator and commentator for the film.

Calypso (Sir Lancelot)

This character served as the film’s Greek chorus, singing most of his lines in a calypso style, commenting on the goings-on and providing a sort of narration. (My favorite scene with this character contains a rare non-singing bit; he’s assisting Dr. Walters, who’s preparing for a meeting at the jail. Calypso pours a bit of brandy in the doctor’s waiting glass and asks him if Capt. Munsey will be at the meeting as well. When Dr. Walters gives an affirmative nod, Calypso nods with understanding and fills the glass to the top.)

Favorite quote: “Brandy’s the very best drink in the world, if you drink enough, your toes get curled.” (Sung to a calypso tune, of course.)

Other stuff:

During the film, the inmates take in a movie at the prison. The movie is The Egg and I (1947), starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray. Interestingly, the movies were released the same year.

Charles McGraw has a brief part in the film – he was in only one scene.

In a small role as a jail guard, Jay C. Flippen offered up one of my favorite quotes: “Don’t ask me no favors – I can’t be bribed, see. Besides, you ain’t got enough dough to bribe me.”

The warden’s boss was a wrong-headed bureaucrat played by Richard Gaines, who portrayed a similarly jackassery character as Edward G. Robinson’s boss in Double Indemnity.

Brute Force airs early in the wee morning hours of Thanksgiving Day – do yourself a favor and set your VCR to catch this one. You won’t be sorry.

You only owe it to yourself.


~ by shadowsandsatin on November 27, 2013.

2 Responses to “The Men of Brute Force (1947)”

  1. Hate to admit I have never seen it. Your excellent write-up has made me want to see it ASAP

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