Criterion Sunday 383: Brute Force (1947)

A classic prison break movie that aside from some largely perfunctory flashbacks is all set on an island prison as Burt Lancaster tries to sway people round to the idea of escaping. It helps that nobody likes the brutal Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn), and though his power is nominally held in check by the warden, that’s a fragile balance at best. The film is most convincing dealing with the powerplay between inmates and guards, especially Munsey, and Cronyn commands the screen less with physical size as with small gestures and quiet commands which carry the weight of punishment behind them (and enforced by his burly goons). It’s a war film by any other name, in which the guards are the Nazis and the prisoners the captured PoWs, but repositioning it this way means there’s less patriotic heroism at stake and so things are free to go wrong for everyone. Looks great with the stark black-and-white and clearly influenced a number of other films in the same genre.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Jules Dassin; Writers Richard Brooks and Robert Patterson; Cinematographer William H. Daniels; Starring Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, Art Smith; Length 98 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), Wellington, Sunday 27 December 2020.

Criterion Sunday 380: The Naked City (1948)

There may be 8 million stories in the naked city (as famously narrated by its producer Mark Hellinger, who died just before its release), but this film is interested in one kind and does it in such a way as to pretty much define the rules for an entire genre (the police procedural detective drama), or so it sometimes feels. It also feels properly brutal in the way it presents its murders, even though we don’t actually see very much that’s particularly graphic, but that’s the noir edge to this gritty urban thriller about a young woman found murdered and the subsequent search for her murderer. Naturally it takes us down various alleys, and presents a few different suspects, but the Irish police lieutenant in charge of the case (a memorable Barry Fitzgerald) and a rookie kid (Don Taylor), who’s clearly new to the job, start to figure things out as they run down leads. It has a documentary feel to its photography, inspired by Weegee and filmed on New York’s streets rather than the customary backlots, which affords plenty of extra atmosphere and may be the defining aspect of the film, above even the writing and direction. It’s certainly a classic.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Jules Dassin; Writers Albert Maltz and Malvin Wald; Cinematographer William H. Daniels; Starring Barry Fitzgerald, Don Taylor, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart; Length 96 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), Wellington, Sunday 13 December 2020.