Wednesday, January 14, 2009
The climax of Jules Dassin's 1947 prison drama, Brute Force, featuring Burt Lancaster as Joe Collins, a sympathetic prisoner, leading cell R-17 in a desperate escape attempt, contains some of the most fierce and savage imagery I've yet seen on film. It's so raw and angry, it's hard to believe that it came at the beginning of the Red Scare's second wave and not after Dassin himself was a victim. Dassin, who died last year at the age of 96, was subpoenaed by HUAC in 1952, based on testimony from one of the original Hollywood 10, Edward Dmytryk, (Murder My Sweet), and Frank Tuttle, (This Gun For Hire), and subsequently blacklisted. He left America for France in 1953 and though he was not fluent in french managed to continue making influential films, (most notably, Rififi which features the legendary silent heist sequence). Dassin followed up Brute Force with Naked City, Thieves' Highway and Night and the City before getting McCarthy's boot up his ass. Brute Force called it as he saw it, it's an allegory of common men victimized and marginalized by a cruel system, and exiled from their homes. (SPOILER ALERT) I hope that seeing Lancaster charging down a railroad track shielded by the body of a stool pigeon, machine gunning the guards and casting the sadistic warden from the flaming tower into the rioting mass of inmates, in his mind's eye, provided some catharsis for Dassin during the years of Hollywood exile. He did eventually return to the main stream and directed Peter Ustinov to an Oscar in Topkapi, (based on the Eric Ambler novel The Light of Day). Night and the City was remade in 1992 starring Robert DeNiro and Jessica Lange with an adapted screenplay from Richard Price, btw.