BRUTE FORCE. Universal International, 1947. Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, Charles Bickford. Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth, Ella Raines, Anita Colby, John Hoyt, Howard Duff, Whit Bissell, Art Smith. Director: Jules Dassin.

   A movie that takes place almost entirely behind the walls of a prison is not likely to have many women in it, and if it weren’t for brief flashbacks, there wouldn’t be any at all. Anyone in 1947 who paid 25 cents to see Yvonne De Carlo in this film should have marched right up to the box office afterward and demanded his money back.

   In spite of the posters and lobby cards, a prime example of which you can see below, Miss De Carlo graces the screen for less than five minutes, but I have to admit, she makes the most of them.


   In this movie she plays the Italian girl friend of the GI in World War II (Howard Duff) who took the rap for her after she shot her father when he broke down and tried to turn him in to the authorities.

   In fact, it seems that the women in their lives are part of the stories of all of the men in Cell R-17, in one way or another.

   Some are weak (Whit Bissell) and some are strong (Burt Lancaster), but none are really evil — except perhaps Joe Collins (Lancaster), who seems to be a leader of a small gang but whose soft spot is a crippled woman whom he loves (and who does not know what he did for a living).

   No matter. When Burt Lancaster glowers at you, with those dark accusing eyes, you know you’ve been glowered at. This seems to have been only his second movie, the first being The Killers (1946), and if his performance in that earlier picture didn’t make an impression on the movie-going public, this one surely did. Joe Collins means to escape, and he doesn’t care how.


   Standing in his way, however, is not the weak-kneed warden, who simply wants everyone to get along — including Gallagher, the grizzled but pacifistic Charles Bickford who’s in charge of the prison newspaper and expecting to get a parole any day now. No, the other person whose role in this movie you will remember for a long time is Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn), the slim but sneering and slickly sadistic head of the prison guards whom everybody locked up inside hates with a passion, to the utmost fiber of their being.


   Some prisoners break under his thumb of iron, some don’t. The ending of this movie — I don’t think it will surprise anyone if I say that indeed there is a break-out eventually does take place — is filled with the chaos of lights blazing, sirens wailing, and the sound of gunfire ringing off the walls.

   Who gets out, who survives? That I can’t tell you, but I can tell you this. No one walked out of the movie when it was playing, and no one asked for their money back. (That the movie gets a little preachy toward the very end is forgivable. No one paid any attention to that anyway. Prison life was hard in 1947, and while it may have changed, it never got any easier.)