Monday, August 16, 2010

100 years, 100 films 38: Brute Force (1947)

This is the kind of movie where characters stand around, spouting pop-philosophy garbage at each other. There's not a character in the whole film who doesn't awkwardly "represent" something - the prison guard is the evils of beaurocracy and capitalism; the doctor is the ineffectual intelligentsia, explaining social problems but unable to do anything to stop them; the warden is the problems with democracy - limp wristed and more concerned with the retention of his job than actually doing it competently; the prisoners are "society" - being pushed around by forces beyond their control. And this stupid symbolism is handled so heavy handedly by the director, Jules Dassin, that the movie stops feeling like a movie and starts feeling like a sociology lesson aimed at mentally retarded people. Characters basically just walk around screaming, "THIS IS WHAT I REPRESENT! I AM THE EVILS OF THE CAPITALIST SYSTEM!" for ninty minutes. It's really annoying.

Burt Lancaster plays Joe Collins, a hardened criminal with a heart of gold (you can tell he has a heart of gold, because he's in love with a crippled woman. Goddamn this movie is stupid) who is planning the Communist overthrow of society... whoops... errm... I mean a prison break. Lancaster acts as if he's got a slice of lemon in his mouth, spitting out his lines in between stoic grimaces. He's acting opposite Hume Cronyn as the evil prison guard, who is a walking bundle of allusions to sadism, fascism, capitalism, beaurocracy, homosexuality, anything else Jules Dassin can think of to despise. Both of these actors do the best with what they're given, but what they're given is a huge pile of horse shit, so...

To be fair to the movie, the climactic action set piece is actually quite effective (although the effect is somewhat ruined by the doctor's final line: "Nobody ever escapes! Nobody!"), the cinematography is uniformly excellent, the dirt and the grime and the muck all look suitably disgusting. I just wish the film stopped shouting it's stupid points at me, and just let the characters be themselves, rather than conforming to some dumbassed and highly "symbolic" scheme.

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