Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose #31: No Escaping Noir (Scene from Brute Force)

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Sam Levene is one of the great Noir stalwarts.  He was in many films of the classic period (The Killers and Crossfire) and always turned in a great performance.

As in "Desperate" the scene begins with the victim cowed in the foreground.  The Captain's interrogation is cold and becomes increasingly violent.  When we cut to the guards playing cards at the table we see their discomfort, even revulsion at what they can hear going on, but they don't do anything to interfere. They need those jobs.

The overtones of Nazism had to be significantly felt by filmgoers in 1947.  We have a prison, we have a sadistic man of authority, we have a helpless victim and we have Wagner.  We have guards who stand by, knowing what's happening.  The average guy is helpless in this world and doesn't have a chance.

Someone in the audience must be thinking "What did we fight that war for anyway?"

 

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I see a lot of similarities between today's and yesterday's daily dose films, specially in what concerns the depiction of violence. In this scene from Jules Dassin's Brute Force, Wagner's music in the soundtrack joins the parcial darkness in the image to go beyond the limits of figurability of violence: we see the beating being prepared like a ritual by the prison's chief of security, as if not only he did those same actions everyday but also took pleasure on it; first, he puts the classic music on (the tone of grandiosity and apotheosis contrasts with the brutality and lack of morality of his acts), then he closes the shutters one by one to darken the office and shows his victim the instrument with which he will perpetrate the beating, and at some point he actually puts the music louder to increase the violence. When the shutters are closed, the office where the scene is set becomes more menacing as it is filled with expressionist shadows and darkness. Differently from Anthony Mann's Desperate, here in almost all the shots we see the two characters together, even if power-submission relationship is still aluded by their physical postures and by the low position of the camera. 

Watching the scene, it made me think about how the classical soudtrack and the darkness are complices of the violent acts commited: outside the Captain's office, a bunch of officers wait while playing cards, and even if they seem slightly uncomfortable with the beating sounds and the loud music coming from the other room, they do nothing about it. Once again, it's only by sound that we get to feel the desperate feeling of the action taking place off-screen.
Brute Force isn't an existencialist film only because of its depiction of law forces as brutal and inhuman; it's also because it shows that truth doesn't beat corruption nor violence, and speaking the truth can't save us from those brutal and inhuman acts. The same prison officers that beat to unconsciousness their prisoners are the ones who clean their own hands, lie and forget all about it as soon as they're done.

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A calm Munsey sits in front of a petrified Louis. Though not a big man, Munsey has a somewhat intimidating presence.  He asks Louis what business he had in the drain pipe and when Munsey didn't like his answer he slapped Louis. Munsey slapped and scolded Louis like a child.

 

Now Munsey realizes he has to get his hands dirty and by looking at his appearance he probably doesn't like to, but will if he has to. His appearance is clean, his office is tidy and has a refined taste in music. The shades go down, a pipe comes out, Munsey's man leaves and the music speeds up. Louis tried hard to look Munsey in the eye and not back down, but now he cowers. He beats Louis and during that we see men, with sorrow filled faces outside the office playing cards and acting like nothing is wrong, except for one man that throws his cards down in disgust. Now we're back in Munsey's office with him asking Louis questions. One question throws Louis, Munsey knew something he didn't. Musney stops, looks at the record player and goes to turn it up, as though this is the best part in the score and he can't miss it. He turns around towards Louis and walks toward him. The camera cuts to the record player, then the plant, and then Munsey's stoic yet smug portrait. I don't want to know what was happening during those moments.  Louis gives up and then so does Munsey. End music. Louis is just going to be tossed aside and Munsey scrubs his hands, like he thinks he can wash away what he did. He also looked disgusted at the fact he got his hands dirty.

 

Munsey is horrid. The act of playing that music while beating someone was sadistic. He got pleasure out of what he was doing and the music helped him perform. He turned it up at that one point to help get him going. Musney definitely has some kind of inferiority complex and is trying to overcompensate for something.

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The classical music in this scene provides a stark contrast to the harsh violence in this clip.  The choice of Wagner is particularly telling.  Who was the one who specified that the music should be Wagner?  Was it Dassin or Brooks?  They could have chosen any number of classical composers like Mozart or Bach, but Wagner has long been associated with the Nazi regime (though ironically, not all Nazi leaders liked Wagner).  By choosing Wagner’s music, the filmmakers made a parallel between Munsey’s interrogation methods and Nazi brutality.  Munsey runs the prison like a fascist state.  This is further emphasized by the other prison guards playing cards during the beating.  Even though they can hear the sound of the rubber pipe, they do nothing, probably out of fear that if they try to intervene, the same thing will happen to them.  Even the one who leaves the table does nothing to stop Munsey.  This scene in Brute Force shows that even though the U.S. defeated the Nazis, even the “good guys” have the capability of committing acts of cruelty.

 

Interestingly, this is another film that was inspired by some real-world events.  Brute Force was inspired by a prison riot at Alcatraz in 1946 called the “Battle of Alcatraz” where five people were killed and twelve were wounded.

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Continental philosophy is one good touchstone for interpreting this scene. History is another good one. The musical accompaniment to this scene of torture calls to mind the story about American soldiers' finding an edition of Rilke's poetry in a guard station as the Allies were liberating the concentration camps. The stinging irony here is that the people who are apparently the most inhuman are still enthralled by the humanities. It's the very "humanness" of these inhuman monsters that makes us shudder when we hear about Nazis reading poetry. If they are at least somewhat human like us, then maybe we're at least somewhat monstrous like they are.

 

In Brute Force, the torturer's choice of Wagner to accompany his brutal labors resonates with the post-war discoveries of Nazi atrocities in the camps. Wagner, the composer most associated with the valorization of German culture and national myths, is here used to drown out the sounds of blows and groans. Perhaps the Nazi guard with a taste for poetry similarly used Rilke's verse to distract himself from the cries of his victims.

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-- What role does music (especially the record playing Wagner) play in the intensity of this scene?

You see the record reflected on the inside cover of the record player.  The music is loud and hides the beating of the prisoner.

-- Based on what you've learned in this class, how does this scene fit in with your understanding of early postwar film noir (films released in 1946 and 1947) and the development of the noir style and substance?

This time the bad guys are the police of the prison.  The captain is cold blooded.  He pulls down the shades making the office darker.  He then pulls out a rubber hose.  You see the other police just outside the captain's office listening to the sounds of the beating.  The look on their eyes shows they do not like the captain's methods.  One of them gets up suddenly showing his disgust with what is going on.  The camera panned the captain's office.  You see a fancy record player, plants, and his picture on the wall.  You would never think by how the office looks that the guy is a brute.

When the victim is told there was an escape planned, his eyes get large.  But he still says he does not know anything.

Then the captain calls in Jackson and says "take him to the isolation ward.  Spread the word that he had an accident coming back from the drain pipe."  When Jackson asks "any connection between Gallagher and Collins?" The captain tells Jackson while he is washing the blood from his hands, "No, if there was he would have told me."

This scene reminds me of "Desperate" and its beating scene.

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– What role does music (especially the record playing Wagner) play in the intensity of this scene?

 

First, let’s try to identify exactly which music is being used here on the soundtrack to represent the recording Captain Munsey is playing on his phonograph in this scene.  The selection begins with an excerpt from the overture to Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser.  After approximately 56 seconds, there is a splice into an excerpt from the “Bacchanale” in the first act of the opera.  That continues until Munsey turns off the phonograph.  The subject matter of this part of the opera could be relevant to the situation in Brute Force.  The opera combines material from medieval German legends with motifs from classical mythology.  In Act I, a 14th century minnesinger named Tannhäuser finds himself a prisoner (albeit a willing one) in the goddess Venus’s subterranean grotto called the Venusberg.  When the opera premiered at the Paris Opera in 1861, house tradition called for the inclusion of a ballet, so Wagner inserted a ballet in the first act in the form of a bacchanale in the Venusberg.  A bacchanale is an ********* musical composition, often depicting a drunken revel.  For the most part, that is what we hear as the diegetic music in this clip from Brute Force.

 

“*********” may be an apt description for what we witness in this scene.  The music amplifies and heightens the violence Munsey visits on Louis.  Both the music and Munsey’s punishing interrogation come to a climax before Munsey finally relents and decides there really is nothing he can learn from Louis.  At one point Munsey turns up the volume of the music in an apparent attempt to mask the sounds of the beating from the guards in the next room, just as the shades on the windows were lowered earlier to hide these proceedings from the rest of the world.  As the music continues, we see the room appointments of a narcissistic little dictator:  a picture of a classical statue of a man’s head and muscular torso, perhaps bound; a photo of Munsey himself in uniform, striking an arrogant pose not unlike the Führer; a planter box with flowers under the window and next to that a case of guns and rifles.  At the end of the interrogation Munsey seems physically spent to some degree as he wipes his brow before walking over to turn off the music.  The **** of violence is over, and Munsey can wash up.  The classical music, artwork, and plants seem to represent a perversion of culture at the hands of a homegrown, arrogant tyrant reminiscent of the fascists just defeated in World War II.

 

Are there any connections we can draw between this scene and the bacchanale in the Venusberg grotto in Tannhäuser?  A few perhaps, but I would not want to push it too far.  Munsey’s darkened office and the low-key lighting used during the interrogation might remind one of a grotto.  Although Tannhäuser was a prisoner of love, he did eventually want to leave and return to freedom and the natural world.  Louis is just another prisoner at Westgate Penitentiary, from where it can be assumed that everyone wants to get out.  And as just noted, there is a certain ********* quality to Munsey’s power trip.  Finally, as unfortunate as it is for the beautiful music that Wagner created, there is no denying that the Third Reich left a taint on his music that lives on for many people as an association with fascism.

 

– Based on what you've learned in this class, how does this scene fit in with your understanding of early postwar film noir (films released in 1946 and 1947) and the development of the noir style and substance?

 

Brute Force falls into a film noir category that Raymond Durgnat calls “corrupt penology.”  It forms part of the interest in realism that characterized much of the early postwar film noir dealing with crime in the streets, political corruption, and police procedures.  It fits that leftist director Jules Dassin would take on topics such as corruption and unjust treatment in the country’s overcrowded prisons.  Dassin had left the Communist Party in 1939 because he was disillusioned when the USSR signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler.  Dassin’s anti-fascist views apparently could not brook compromise with the devil.  Here, just two years after the war, I think he may have been trying to point out that defeating Germany and Italy in the war had not put an end to fascism in the world.  No, men like Captain Munsey could exist right in our midst in this country.  And, as Prof. Edwards points out in his curator’s note, the prison was an apt metaphor for the existentialist experience, another theme that influenced film noir in the postwar years.

 

P.S.  Apparently the message board does not allow the adjective and noun I used that begin with the letter "O."  Hint: it's what happens at a bacchanale.

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The classical music in this scene provides a stark contrast to the harsh violence in this clip.  The choice of Wagner is particularly telling.  Who was the one who specified that the music should be Wagner?  Was it Dassin or Brooks?  They could have chosen any number of classical composers like Mozart or Bach, but Wagner has long been associated with the Nazi regime (though ironically, not all Nazi leaders liked Wagner).  By choosing Wagner’s music, the filmmakers made a parallel between Munsey’s interrogation methods and Nazi brutality.  Munsey runs the prison like a fascist state.  This is further emphasized by the other prison guards playing cards during the beating.  Even though they can hear the sound of the rubber pipe, they do nothing, probably out of fear that if they try to intervene, the same thing will happen to them.  Even the one who leaves the table does nothing to stop Munsey.  This scene in Brute Force shows that even though the U.S. defeated the Nazis, even the “good guys” have the capability of committing acts of cruelty.

 

Interestingly, this is another film that was inspired by some real-world events.  Brute Force was inspired by a prison riot at Alcatraz in 1946 called the “Battle of Alcatraz” where five people were killed and twelve were wounded.

Yes, the guard who stood up did not do anything.  His body language shows he wanted to stop it, but did not take action.

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No Escaping Noir (Scene from Brute Force)

 

What a brutal Scene!

 

Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn) rules as did the dictators from Germany, Italy and Russia- with an iron fist. His attempt to force the prisoner into submission by way of torture is an indication of his nihilist views.

 

The Captain’s infliction of bodily harm is giving him sadistic pleasure. First he slaps the inmate, then he stares him down, shuts the shades, tells the guard to leave and then pulls out a thick rubber hose. The inmate keeps responding “I don’t know,” to the questions. Munsey now confronts his prisoner with hose in hand and after some more Q&A with the same “I don’t know,” hits him 7 times (off camera). At one point, he even turn the volume up and we hear Wagner’s Overture blaring- really haunting. This I believe, suggests that the torture continued during the several CUT TO that followed. We then see Munsey wipe the sweat from his brow-he’s exhausted. He washes his hands but not his sweaty face. As if he’s not ashamed to show his face, but his hands- well, they must be washed.

 

This scene reminds me of the German Nazi dentist (Szell) and his constant question “Is it safe?” in Marathon Man (1976)

 

Side note:

These last 5 daily Doses beginning with Beware, My Lovely have been very enlightening and/or thrilling. Too bad they end tomorrow. I’m going to miss them and all of you.

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After the class has focused on the frequent use of jazz on the soundtracks of many films noir, it seems startlingly different to hear classical music used in this scene. The sharp, angular sound of be bop mesh with the dark themes and high contrast lighting of the films. As others have pointed out, the choice of Wagner is telling, given the fact that the composer's was a favorite among Nazi circles. Cronyn turns up the music as he cruelly beats and interrogates Bickford, trying to extract information that the prisoner doesn't have. The music builds in intensity as the sounds of the off-screen beating become louder and more brutal.

 

The fact that the police are corrupt and ruthlessly cruel in their methods places this film in noir territory. The authority figures we are supposed to trust and rely on are up to no good. Trust no one. This is a world where everyone is looking over their shoulder all the time.

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The music as he closes the shades is interesting.  Whereas most noir films rely on horns, usually a saxophone or clarinet, the music is a flurry of violins and flutes.  It adds an unsettling layer to the scene.  Louis has been smacked, so after all these films and clips, I expect some heavy “DUM DUM DUM” sound.  Instead, it sounds like frantic fairies looking for another hit of meth.  I understand it’s supposed to cover the sound of the beating, but it’s a unique choice.

 

Seeing the impact on the guards playing cards has a greater impact than if I saw the beating itself.  One gets made.  The other looks very worried.  All show some level of fear.  It’s devastating to me as a viewer.

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Phew, reading the other comments, I honestly don't feel I have the intellectual chops to comment very well on this one! It has been a stimulating and fascinating read...I'll really miss this after tomorrow!

 

For me, the Wagner, the military photo on the wall, the beating and brutality: all of them tie in with a nod towards Nazism and their belief that the good of the whole is more important than that of the individual, Miller is seen as expendable and the means justify the end when it comes to torturing him (the individual) and protecting the prison (the whole). You see this too in the compliance of the other guards who go along with the beating by their inaction: an allusion to Nazi soldiers perhaps who were only "obeying orders:? 

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Now I know the reason for the cruel and unusual punishment laws.  That is really nasty.  Which goes to show how people can be drunk with power and they abuse it very well.

 

Munsey uses the record to both heighten the thrill he gets from being so powerful and to cover his dirty deeds with the loudness of music.  It's really cowardly of the rest of the prison staff to just sit there and not say anything.  They could easily be in these prisoners shoes and they would want someone to show them mercy.  It is interesting that the piece chosen is something that is beautiful.  Could it be that Munsey finds such force beautiful?  Or being able to do such harm to captive punching bags, arousing?  it's not only disturbing, but sick.  I would say that any warden who lives like this has been at their job way to long.  He definitely wants this prisoner to tattle on his friends. 

 

Like early postwar films, this film has the elements needed for a noir film.  We find out that the warden expects a prison break soon.  From this information, we learn that there is someone who is willing to be a plant for the warden, someone is spying for him.  The questions are:  Who is the spy for the warden?  And how do they, the prisoners, out smart their adversary?  Like detectives in other noir films, the warden is trying to get a confession out of this prisoner in a brutal fashion.  Not all noir films have brutal scenes in them, but there has to be something that catapults the characters into the tornado that is the story and plot.  Every part of the film has to be in its right place, or there is no point.  If noir films were not so brutal before, they became that over time.  And it was partly truth of these films, because that does happen in real life.  And also, it is the natural development of noir films over their history.  It's a terrible commentary, but violence is not going away and films will show us our dark sides as well as the light. 

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In the movie, the purpose of the music in this scene is to (not so much) cover up the noises being made by Munsey beating the tar out of the reporter. But in the grand scheme of things, the music serves to intensify the drama of the beating, kinda like yesterday's Daily Dose and the swinging light.

 

Brute Force is an excellent example of those early post-war noir movies for a variety of reasons. Stylistically, it makes great use of light and dark (note how much more ominous things got when Munsey drew the blinds), dramatic music (to ratchet up the tension), and several other tricks of the trade that would become noir staples. Thematically, we see caged men desperate to be free, willing to die to get out from under society's institutional boot, (Hume Cronyn personifying that boot to perfection). Violence is portrayed more graphically and brutally than it had been before and during the war. However, I do notice that in many of the early post-war noir movies I've seen, there seems to be a glimmer of hope somewhere within them, whereas Brute Force is just straight bleak, beginning to end. In that respect, I think it shares more in common with noir flicks made a bit later...

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Wow! Hume Cronyn! What a disturbing scene. Talk about abuse of authority! The close-up of the spinning record and player while the captain's assault occurs off-screen is a deft solution. One of the many things I love about film noir is its willingness to show the corrupt and violent side of the law. 

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This penultimate Daily Dose features one of the most brutal and realistic scenes ever depicted in film noir, a very realistic noir with the ideal title Brute Force, directed by the brilliant Jules Dassin.

 

Prison violence is quite often depicted in modern films but it wasn't so common to see a scene like this in the 1940's. I believe this depicts how studios and filmmakers stretched their boundaries in order to achieve profits during the early post-war era, not hesitating to depict sex and violence with a less subtle way than before, thus defining the post-war film noir style which is much more realistic and down-to-earth than its wartime counterpart.

 

The scene, and the film in whole, reminded me of much more modern prison films (though set in this period) like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. I don't know whether this is just my idea, but Capt. Munsey's face somewhat resembled Percy Weatmore's from the latter film.

 

Wagner's music does its part brilliantly, too. As common in such scenes of torture and violence, it supposes to cover the screaming and other sounds made by the beated man, but it actually emphasizes them, mostly due to its rhythm and sudden interruption towards the end of the scene. Music and violent scenes are a common, and quite fruitful, combination in film noir.

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I can’t turn up the volume at work today so I’m commenting based only on what I remember of the film and what I saw rather than heard in the clip.

 

-- What role does music (especially the record playing Wagner) play in the intensity of this scene?

 

Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883), a gifted German composer of operas who was extremely anti-Semitic, became a favorite of Hitler’s and became inextricably identified with and symbolic of the Nazi Party and, in particular, its treatment of the Jews.  It was Wagner’s writings that made him a Hitler favorite.  Many movies use Wagner’s music to convey the destructive Nazi anti-Semitic stance, and whenever a scene is including Wagner, you know it’s not going to turn out good.  [i’m thinking of the concentration camp scenes in Seven Beauties, especially, and Ride of the Valkyries in Apocalypse Now.]  Here, notably, the two actors playing out this scene are Jewish.  Hume Cronyn is playing an unusually physical part for him. He is “evil, wicked, mean and nasty” (to quote the old Steppenwolf song).  Sam Levene is the reporter taking the beating, who is conveying a great deal of intelligence and understanding of what is happening to him in this scene – watch his eyes.  As for the rest, everyone else knows what’s going on, although their powerlessness to stand up to the Warden is also palpable. Now if I’m going to put this into strictly WWII context, Hume Cronyn is Nazi Germany, Sam Levene is not just the Jews, but German occupation and control of Europe between 1939 and 1941.  The powerless on lookers? Americans, who did not intervene from 1939 until 1941 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. There is also a shot in the scene, after the music has been turned very loud, where all we see is the photo on the wall of the Warden in uniform – reminiscent of an SS officer.

 

-- Based on what you've learned in this class, how does this scene fit in with your understanding of early postwar film noir (films released in 1946 and 1947) and the development of the noir style and substance?

 

The French existentialism mentioned, where the French Underground fought against Vichy France and German occupation, would be mirrored by the prison, with the inmates (and some of the prison staff) being forced to live in a fascist culture, under the thumb of an unbearably evil man.  Nevertheless, the French Resistance fought against the occupation and Vichy – despite the seeming impossibility of winning, let alone escaping. Robert Porfirio was arguing in his article that American culture didn’t have any basis in its own experience or psyche for relating to the French existentialist point of view – i.e., America had not been occupied, rounded up and murdered, with escape nearly impossible and death if captured a certainty. 

 

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Much like yesterday's DDD, you there's a visceral element to the violence and the intimidation in Brute Force that's truly disturbing.    Munsey (Hume Cronan), like Burr's character Radak from Desperate, is a true sadist.   He not only enjoys inflicting pain, he enjoys watching their victims suffer it.  

 

At core, it's about power on a very rudimentary level; almost in a deliberate corruption of Nietzsche's Will To Power (a corruption the Nazi's clearly exploited).   Munsey has it and enjoys exploiting it against those who haven't.   Another metaphor for life and, in this particular context, another allusion to the horrors and brutality of Fascism, and the exploitation of the weak by the strong.  

 

Munsey's almost polar shifting from softness to brutality is unhinging.  You know it's born of much practice.   He taunts his advantage, gleefully foreshadows the punishment that's to come before actually making good on the threat.   He knows that the mind will envision a greater pain than even he can administer.  

 

The music is a perfect component to the scene, because it really is a symphony of violence we're watching.  It's made even more apropos by virtue that the music is Wagner.  Munsey artfully dances around his office, theatrically drawing the shades, producing his billy-club, moving between the harsh extremes of light and shadow, savagely slapping Levine but in a way that promises greater pain is soon to come.

 

He looms menacingly over Levine to inspire still greater fear and foreboding.  He showcases the club before using it, and it's wonderful the way Levine keeps leaning away from Munsey, anticipating another blow.   And, just as an imagined threat is always more effective and fear-inspiring than what can actually be inflicted, the camera pulls away from Levine as Munsey begins to brutally beat him from behind.    And, as in Desperate, there's also a reaction shot from the guards outside Munsey's office as they cringe with each blow.   (Another allusion by Dassin to the systematic sadism and genocide of the Nazi's and the complicity of average people in it by virtue of their doing nothing to oppose or stop it...even when they know, as at least one of the guards here does, that's it's wrong and more than wrong?)  

 

We've seen comparable scenes played out in countless films involving 'interrogations' by the gestapo and, more recently, in The Marathon Man, as the fugitive Nazi dentist, Szell, asks Dustin Hoffman "Is it safe?"   The fact that this scene is taking place only a few years removed from WWII, in one of our prisons, makes it even more harrowing.   But here, in the confines of a prison, there is no escape for Levine.  The prison is yet another metaphor, as is so often the case in noir.      

 

This scene also resonates for me on a very personal level.   I'm showing my age, here, but in grade school I had a music teacher...aptly named Wagner...a very large, imposing middle-aged woman...who would routinely 'discipline' rambunctious and misbehaving students by taking them, often by the ear, into a small 'storage room' across the hall and beating them with a wooden pointer or paddle...always to music played especially loud on the record player.   No, it wasn't always Tannheuser, but I know from first-hand experience the end result was much the same.   Even the class bullies went in as boisterous lions and exited docile lambs.  

 

I can't help but think Mrs. Wagner saw this scene and took it just a bit too much to heart.  

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This daily dose is an observation of Mise-en-scene. There is a careful arrangement of the room framing the violence and contrasting the values to the focal point. Even the placement of the record player mirroring the vinyl going round and round ,to the framed print of Michelangelo's Bound Slave struggling to get free. Then on the opposite wall, we have a framed strong warden( sadistic captain) proudly holding a pose. I would have never paid attention to the placement of objects and

arrangement of things in a movie before this class. Art is seeing, thanks for sharpening 

the lenses.

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The music in the savage beating in Brute Force definitely contributes to this scene as the music seems to intensify as the beating intensifies.  Wonderfully shot because we do not have to see the beating to know it is brutal, all we have to see is the look on the faces of all those other men sitting around the table listening to what is going on.

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The music is dark, reflecting the darkness of the entire scene:  the brutality, violence, sadism, and corruption of the prison environment and of the captain and the rest of the guards. When the captain pulls down the window shades, we know what's coming.   He calmly beats a helpless man and then he and the guard matter of factly put the cover up story in place. Business as usual.   During the beating, the men in the other room know what's going on but are all participants in a conspiracy of silence.  They are all participants in the corruption and violence in the prison.  No one is going to stand up for what is right.  It's every man for himself.  It's another form of jungle, and everyone does what they need to do to survive..

 

Yesterday's beating of a man was administered by a thug living outside the law.  Today's beating is administered by a representative of the law who is no less a thug.  He's king of the jungle...

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As I watched Hume Cronyn pretend to be calmly questioning Same Levene and then suddenly deliver a violent slap to his head, I was struck by the similarity between this behavior and the interrogation techniques that I have seen used by Nazis in other films of this period. Likewise, as Cronyn proceeds to slap and then beat Levene with a rubber hose, director Dassin moves the violence off-camera, and we see a group of men engaged in a game of cards. Although they can hear what is going on, none of them makes any attempt to stop it. One of them expresses disapproval by standing up and throwing his cards down onto the table, but he makes no move to intervene, reminding me of how the Germans-  and the world- turned a blind eye to the ethnic "cleansing" and slaughter of the Jewish people. The Wagner music (interesting choice- German composer) swells as the violence intensifies, heightening the anxiety. At one point Cronyn turns up the volume in an attempt to drown out the sound of the blows. Some of the staging employed by Dassin i.e. having Cronyn sitting higher than Levene (Jewish) and looking down on him indicate an attitude of superiority in the "captain". This early post-war noir began to explore themes beyond the usual murder/robbery/double -cross of the earlier period and delved deeper into the grand-scale darker side of humanity that will continue to be explored in films noir in the next decade.

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Well, his choice of Wagner is a pretty obvious reference to the Nazis and Hitler, in particular.

 

The scene takes place in a prison, which isn't unlike a concentration camp. Especially when the warden beats inmates to extract information.

 

The darkness of the room, the closeups of the men, and the music combine to make the scene tense and claustrophobic. The idea that the prison journalist cannot escape the beating ties in with the hopelessness of existential philosophy.

 

Ironically, the warden gets no information from the beaten man. In fact, he's way too sure of himself.

 

I've never seen this film, but I'd love to check it out now!

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Jules Dassin’s “Brute Force” (1947) “Wrong Answer” scene

 

The Wagner music enhances a great juxtaposition to the scene with the beautiful classic music playing as Louis (Sam Levine) is about to receive a brutal beating from the sociopath Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn), great casting by Dassin. The music at first seeming to be out of place, soon is perfect as the brutal thrashing is unleashed on Louis.

 

This scene fits in with many early postwar films noir of the time, as Louis is in a situation where he can’t win, where he is just a man outnumbered by a much larger syndicate, in this instance, prison guards. The guards seem to be as vicious as the men put behind the very bars the sentinels are supposed to shepherd. It is the ultimate hypocrisy, seeing one man taking an unjust thrashing from another one who is in a position of authority and the other can do nothing to save himself.

 

A metaphor for what was happening, and about to happen in Dassin's own life, dealing with the communist witch hunt from the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

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-- What role does music (especially the record playing Wagner) play in the intensity of this scene? The music is building to a climax as the beating approaches – just before the worst of the beating, the Hume Cronyn character turns up the music, presumably to cover some of the sounds that others are hearing, outside the room. The music seems like an essential part of the scene.

 

-- Based on what you've learned in this class, how does this scene fit in with your understanding of early postwar film noir (films released in 1946 and 1947) and the development of the noir style and substance? Wagner’s music was admired by the Nazis, so his music brings back the war, as does the police captain’s behavior – he is acting the part of a Fascist in his total control and brutality – there is clearly no escape for Louis.

 

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