Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hume Cronyn, mean SOB

Last night, TCM showed Shadow of a Doubt, where Joseph Cotten got to play the "Merry Widow" murderer. Hume Cronyn has a supporting role, as a young man who trades theories about how to commit the "perfect murder" with family patriarch Henry Travers. It's a fun role, but Cronyn isn't exactly a bad guy there. If you want to see him play somebody really bad, tune into TCM tomorrow at 8:30 AM ET for Brute Force.

The star of the movie is a young Burt Lancaster, playing prisoner Joe Collins. His girl on the outside is seriously ill, and although everybody wants to break out of prison, Joe Collins has the extra good reason of wanting to see his girl before he dies. However, this is prison, and the guards will do everything in their power to make certain escape is impossible, and that prison is actually punishment for the incarcerated.

The man most responsible for that is guard Captain Munsey, played by Hume Cronyn. Munsey apparently got into corrections for the power trip, and has clearly let the power go to his head. He's cold-blooded, calculating, sadistic, and vicious, and (pardon the pun) takes no prisoners with his inmates. He expects prion to be punishment more than rehabilitation, and has no qualms about using violence to subdue the prisoners. Indeed, one of Cronyn's highlights in the movie is a scene in which he turns up the volume on the record player in his office so that he can beat a prisoner with impunity: with the volume up, the prisoners' cries will be drowned out by the music.

But it's not just Cronyn who's bad here. Brute Force is, as the title implies, unremittingly bleak and violent. The prisoners aren't just subject to beatings; if they misbehave, they get horrible work details that literally kill them. And the prison doctor is no help, either; he's a constant drunkwho frankly doesn't care about anybody, and just wants to get through the day. All this leads up to the eventual attempted breakout, which is just as violent on the prisoners' part as the guards have been throughout the movie.

Brute Force is available on DVD, albeit a pricey edition, in case you miss it on TCM tomorrow.

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