Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 21, 2009

Brute Force

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 4:19 pm

This morning I happened across “Brute Force” on the Turner Classic Movie channel. This is a 1947 Jules Dassin film noir about a prison break from Alcatraz that fortunately is available from Netflix.

As was the case with a number of such films, the movie had heavy CP/leftist participation and reflected a mood of disillusionment over the failure of WWII to bring genuine peace. The Cold War was just beginning and reds in the movie industry were apprehensive about the future. As also was the case with a number of other noirs, the main characters are WWII veterans who find themselves behind bars in a reflection of American society’s failure to absorb them after the imperialist bloodletting.

The movie is not first-rate Dassin, the director of masterpieces like “Rififi” and “Never on Sunday”, but it is entertaining enough. Oliver Stone says that the prison break scene from “Natural Born Killers” was influenced by “Brute Force”. That prison break itself was influenced by an actual escape attempted the year before. Unlike other prison break movies, the prisoners are not idealized at all. Joe Collins, the ringleader played by Burt Lancaster, organizes a rubout of a snitch that is quite brutal for the period. The man is thrown into a stamping machine in the prison workshop.

Dassin was of course a Communist who fled Hollywood in the 1950s and began an illustrious career in Europe. The screenplay was written by Richard Brooks, who was born Ruben Sax to Russian Jewish immigrants in Philadelphia. The wiki on Brooks reports:

His second published novel was Splinters in 1941, but his 1945 novel, The Brick Foxhole, proved a larger success – it is the story of a group of Marines who pick up and then murder a homosexual man, and the novel is a stinging indictment of intolerance. The book was made into a movie in 1947 as Crossfire, though the intolerance was switched from homophobia to anti-Semitism to please studio executives and 1940s audiences (Brooks received credit for the book on which the movie is based, but was contractually barred from actually working on the screenplay).

In the 1940s he wrote the screenplays for the critically acclaimed Key Largo and Brute Force, both suspenseful examples of film noir. He also co-wrote Storm Warning, an anti-Klan melodrama with film-noir overtones, in conjunction with Daniel Fuchs. In 1950 he directed his film Crisis, which gave a much darker role to the actor Cary Grant than he had previously attempted. He won his only Oscar in 1960 for his screenplay for Elmer Gantry, although he was nominated for the films Blackboard Jungle (1955), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), The Professionals (1966), and In Cold Blood (1967).

Cast in the role of the prison warden is Roman Bohnen who co-founded the left-oriented  Actors Laboratory Theater. He was blacklisted before his death in 1949 and his name came up in testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Jeff Corey, who played the prisoner Stack, was summoned before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1951. He refused to name names and ridiculed his interrogators by offering critiques of the testimony of the previous witnesses, which led to his being blacklisted for twelve years.

During his blacklisting, Corey drew upon his experience in various actors’ workshops (including Bohnen’s Actors Laboratory Theater, which he helped to establish) and began to teach acting. His students included: Robert Blake, Richard Chamberlain, James Dean, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Michael Forest, James Hong, Penny Marshall, Rita Moreno, Jack Nicholson, Leonard Nimoy, Anthony Perkins, Rob Reiner, Barbra Streisand and Robin Williams.

The movie is somewhat dated and fairly riddled with clichés, but it a fascinating insight into what the Hollywood left was about in 1947, just a few years before it was shut down completely.


  1. Comrade,

    I read with interest your views on the type of new party needed.

    I have a few questions I hope you can answer.

    What role if any do you see for party press? Traditional newspaper? If the party doesn’t take positions on historical questions what does it fill its press with? What does it do when confronted with the issues of Stalin, Mao, etc.? How would the party raise funds? What would be the practical, day-to-day work of its members?

    Do you consider this model valid solely in the United States?

    Do you see a need for a new international? If so, what kind of body do you see and how would it come about?

    Your attention is appreciated.

    Comment by VROT — March 21, 2009 @ 6:17 pm

  2. You should have look at Dassin’s later ‘Thieves Highway’ (1949) and ‘Night and the City’ (1950), both Hollywood movies for a stronger leftist critique.

    Comment by Tony D'Ambra — March 23, 2009 @ 1:10 am

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