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Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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It's interesting to see how the scene's intensity sort of deconstructs at the end: the music is turned off and the shades are lifted, spilling light into the room. In a sort of film noir meta way, you can clearly see how Munsey uses light and music to affect mood, just as the noir filmmakers of the time did. Certainly, the music, particularly as the volume of the record player is raised, helps to add a sense of urgency and dread to what is already a gloomy situation. By assaulting Louis's senses in multiple ways (his ears hearing the music, his eyes adjusting to the dimly lit room, his sense of touch assaulted by a physical beating), Munsey--and Dassin--are having a similar effect on the audience. Our guard is up and our sense of comfort is firmly forgotten.

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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.

 

A  few side notes:  Being fascinated with history I found it very interesting if not ironic that Valkerie (a reference to a maiden in the Wagner opera) was the code name for the plan by numerous German officers, generals and civilians including Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, to assassinate Hitler, return the government to the German people and make peace with the allies. Of course it failed and resulted in hundreds or more executions by the nazi regime. As seen in the very well depicted  film Valkyrie (2008) or a history book near you.

 

As mentioned by a number of classmates the Ride of the Valkyries was used in Apocalypse Now (1979) during a mobile cavalry attack on a seaside village in Vietnam.  

 

And as life imitates art, American forces used a recording of the Ride of the Valkyries during the US invasion of Grenada in October 1983.

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The ante on violence in noir goes higher today in Brute Force.

 

I was not wanting to watch this clip because of the violent content but decided to get it over with. Fortunately the worst takes place off camera, unlike today's violent films.

 

I first heard that particular Wagner tune in "What's Opera, Doc" and the "love scene" between Elmer Fudd's Siegfried and Bugs Bunny's Brunhilde always played in my mind whenever I heard it.  That has permanently changed.

 

Wagner was indeed a favorite of Hitler and the Nazis, and we wonder if Captain Munsey found himself secretly admiring them during the war. He certainly used those methods of torture on Louis to find out about a possible jail break.

 

I also noticed the portrait on the wall of Munsey's office, and he does appear to look like a Nazi in the portrait.

 

The officers in the other room realize there is nothing they can do because Munsey is so corrupt.

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       In this scene, the music of Wagner, and the cold and brutal conduct of the officer to a prisoner, refers to the actions of the Gestapo.  The prisoner is victim of the cruelty perpetrated by a police officer, and is not exhausted. All those outside know what it is and they are impressed, but the beating continues, in the dark, with the loud music... then, rises the curtain, the captain, whose official portrait is focused eloquently, washes his hands and asks that they take the man, or what remains of it. Impressive!

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The ante on violence in noir goes higher today in Brute Force.

 

I was not wanting to watch this clip because of the violent content but decided to get it over with. Fortunately the worst takes place off camera, unlike today's violent films.

 

I first heard that particular Wagner tune in "What's Opera, Doc" and the "love scene" between Elmer Fudd's Siegfried and Bugs Bunny's Brunhilde always played in my mind whenever I heard it.  That has permanently changed.

 

Wagner was indeed a favorite of Hitler and the Nazis, and we wonder if Captain Munsey found himself secretly admiring them during the war. He certainly used those methods of torture on Louis to find out about a possible jail break.

 

I also noticed the portrait on the wall of Munsey's office, and he does appear to look like a Nazi in the portrait.

 

The officers in the other room realize there is nothing they can do because Munsey is so corrupt.

 

The officers in the other room realize there is nothing they can do because Munsey is so corrupt.

 

I would beg to differ.   I think Dassin included this cutaway scene on the guard's reactions expressly to point out their complicity and guilt by omission, by virtue of doing nothing to stop the sadist Munsey despite knowing what he was doing was both wrong and immoral.   It's an indictment against blindly following orders, of adhering to a 'herd mentality' as Nietzsche might call it, of standing by, and not standing up to and against evil, sadism and brutality when confronted by it.  

 

I think this not only resonates for Dassin re the Fascists of WWII, but of their American equivalent embodied in the actions of HUAC and our Red Scare insanity of the late Forties forward that victimized him and countless others.  

 

Worse still, of course, is that that insanity and same brutish methods persist even today.   

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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.

 

Percy Wetmore do a dance, listen to him squishin' in his pants.  :lol:

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As many other uses have pointed out, the use of Wagner's music, the methods of the cop's interrogation, and even his official portrait all point towards Nazi Germany and Fascism in general. Thinly-veiled political commentary here. Both this scene and the one in Desperate can be seen as very influential in neo-noir and the films of Tarentino. 

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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.

Perceptive analysis, thanks!

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The film-makers probably wanted to draw the lines to show Germans as still being the enemy with using Wagner's compositions in this extremely violent scene.  The subtlety of some of the films we saw earlier in the class are not present in this scene, however, I did feel the dread that was discussed in earlier lessons.  I guess I'm just glad that Quentin Tarantino didn't do a remake because this could've really be a bloody scene.

 

I would never have guessed that one of the sweet old men from "Cocoon" is the bad guy in this!  Hume Cronyn was not a handsome man, but really did have an interesting face, much like Bogart.

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

The role of the music is in 2 parts. First it overcomes to some extent Louis' screams and the sound of rubber hose beating.  Second, it excites the captain psychotic desire to harm someone.

 

-- 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?

After the war, word came out about the beating and brutality of authority. Here the captain lowers the shades to darken the room, there is low key lighting, we can hardly see the captain's face. To Louis there is no hope. Also to the captain's staff, there is nothing they can do. It's hopeless.

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Very deep comments.  Especially the drainpipe analogy.  I think that maybe there's a third reason he might be washing his hands: to destroy evidence, separating himself from his crime of prisoner abuse.  Even though he knows no one will accuse him (consider the "paralyzed" guards in an adjoining room, appalled at what's going on, and yet, even though they have him outnumbered, do nothing to stop it), better be safe than sorry.  

You make good points. Particularly the destruction of evidence. I think the "boys in the back room" should belly up to the sink and do some handwashing themselves. If anything,  they should be viewed as accomplices to Munsey's abhorrent behavior. They are cowards, complicit in his actions and equally as guilty. By not doing anything to stop it (as you pointed out), they perpetuate the savagery and brutality. They were repulsed by it but also resigned to the entire situation. "It's business as usual and we certainly don't want to become involved because the same thing can happen to us as what happened to that guy!" The "no way out" existential pattern applies here. Keep posting!

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The use of Wagner (even a sedate for him selection in this scene) plays up an unmistakeable connection with fascism & brutality. Cutting away from the interrogation and showing closeups of other things was a top ail nor element, given the censorship rules of the time. It makes the scene more effective and terrifying, more so than showing it explicitly like they would today. Of course, I can't think of Wagenr on film without thinking of Apocalypse Now and "Kill the Wabbit!"

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Having seen this movie once, I understand that there has been some speculation about Captain Munsey's sexuality.

He does a partial strip prior to carrying out each of his beatings, and their sadism and savagery could be seen as his way of taking out his own self-loathing and sexual repression on others.

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Spinning out of control as the music swells

The playing of Wagner serves to escalate the severity of violence as the tempo and the volume of the music increasing to a dizzying pace.  When the viewer sees the record spinning on the turntable, he like the prisoner  grows weary of the tension and pain of the brute force. As the music spins out of control, the camera moves to the inert plants by the window.  As the camera pans back, we see the prisoner is as still as the plants.  Perhaps the prison warden likes the prisoners to be as docile as his green foliage.

 

Considering that Wagner is a German composer and this film being made postwar, we film viewers realize that brutality did not stop with the death of Hitler and the end of the Third Reich.  We had violence within our own American borders and the perpetrators were our own citizens.  The postwar weary soldier was doing his level best to survive the atrocities of combat, but he often experienced his own pain through the insensitive homefront citizens who did not appreciate his sacrifice.

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Which brings me to the substantive difference between yesterday's and today's scene - Capt. Munsey is a thug with a badge. He has all the trappings of authority at his disposal. This, I think, is something that came into noir in the postwar period and continued through into the 1950's  - the filmmakers dared to show abuse of institutional power, the ugly side of authority. The audience, now that the war was over, didn't need comforting and distraction so much any more and was receptive to more grit and realism in the movies. And with the outside enemy vanquished, it was no longer unpatriotic to look inward and expose the ugly blemishes in our own institutions of power and authority.

 

While I can't speak as strongly to its presence in film, one of the great hard-boiled detective books, Red Harvest, is all about a town that is rotten to the core with institutional corruption (so much so that there are multiple corrupt factions within the town's police force!).  I'd be curious to know if plots like this became less popular during the war. As you say, though, once the war was over there was less need to see police (or generally men in uniform) as being universally good men. And as Willireo points out:

 

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

 

Seeing that kind of abuse would have stung especially deep after fighting for freedom.

 

To me, the most depressing thing about the clip is the reaction of the man about to be beaten. He answers direct questions, but he doesn't try to reason with his tormentor. He doesn't call for (or expect) help. His body language expresses a kind of passive hopelessness that is totally dispiriting to witness. And the worst part is: he's right. A whole roomful of strapping men just sit around playing cards and allow an atrocity to take place just feet away.

 

I think that something else about the music that's interesting is that it seems to reflect that the warden believes himself to be worthy of it--that his actions are rightfully accompanied by an epic, powerful score. He isn't ashamed of his actions--he is celebratory. The glint of his ring as he washes his hands was, to me, very eerie (I think I saw that correctly--he is wearing a wedding band, right?).

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Daily Dose of Darkness #31:


No Escaping Noir (Scene from Brute Force)


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


Gangsters usually turn up the music in scenes such as these in many noir films to cover the sounds of the beating being inflicted upon someone.  In this case, it's the police brutally beating a man, which is not uncommon even today.  In fact there are a dozen cases seen on tv due to the recent digital age of the SMART PHONE, DASHBOARD CAMERAS (IN POLICE CARS THEMSELVES), OR VIDEOED BY PEOPLE ON THE STREET WITNESSING SUCH BRUTALITY.  To me, there is no place for this type of force, in life....yet it is more straight forward than the covert manipulations of many family members upon their relatives or in some church going circles around the globe.  Neither behavior is acceptable to decent ethical and forth right human beings; it is behavior that is exhibited, all the same.


I  wasn't aware that it was Wagner.  But since during this post war era, Germany being the birthplace of Hitler, the SS, and such SIEG HEIL brutality, and the fact that WAGNER  was a German composer, IT FITS, LIKE HAND IN GLOVE, to this sorted 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?


The captain, doing the beating, is paranoid about information that he wants or needs, perhaps to solve a case or perhaps to find out what is known that implicates him in some way.  


I have not seen this film, so I really don't know what to think of this....and I am having trouble in writing to/speaking to style and substance.  I wish I knew what it is about this terminology or the definitions of the words themselves that I don't fully grasp.  I just don't know.


I don't know how much of this movie I will be able to watch.  Depends.


 


#NOIRSUMMER


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The film-makers probably wanted to draw the lines to show Germans as still being the enemy with using Wagner's compositions in this extremely violent scene.  The subtlety of some of the films we saw earlier in the class are not present in this scene, however, I did feel the dread that was discussed in earlier lessons.  I guess I'm just glad that Quentin Tarantino didn't do a remake because this could've really be a bloody scene.

 

I would never have guessed that one of the sweet old men from "Cocoon" is the bad guy in this!  Hume Cronyn was not a handsome man, but really did have an interesting face, much like Bogart.

I really love what you say here.....I was thinking the same thing about Hume Cronyn.  Until now, I don't recall him in any films noir.  Much like seeing William Talman, who played on Perry Mason as the DA for years, the good guy and then seeing him in the DD  FROM THE HITCH HIKER....WHAT A SWITCH.  Then to get right down to it, Raymond Burr had this whole other noir career before PERRY MASON  that I only learned about, for the first time in HITCHCOCK'S REAR WINDOW....THEN I'd see him in more and more and more noir films.  Really is interesting.  I prefer the nicer sides of these guys, which I am sure fits who they truly were in life, rather than the bad guys.  But I bet they had a blast doing these films!  Better to act out a bad guy, than to be a bad guy.

 

thanks for letting me share.

 

#NOIRSUMMER

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     Dassin presents a transparent message of disdain for the Fascists and Nazis with the use of German composer, Wagner's music in the background during the most sadistic abuse of authority ever on film.Initially the viewer is confused with the contrast of the classical music to the unbearable violence.However, the music is intentionally played on a record player during Munsey's savage beating of Louie. He does this in order to mask the prisoner's screams and harsh blows made with the rubber hose.The music seems to have a psychological effect on Munsey; it excites him and heightens his violence toward Louie.

     " Brute Force" is an excellent representation of early postwar film noir. Dassin clearly comments on the brutality committed by the Fascists and Nazis in Europe and how the United States  was also suffering from political and police corruption. I agree with my classmates that this film offers realistic themes ( pacifism,hopelessness,complacence,brutality) so much more profound than the usual noir themes related to crimes, heists, murder, blackmail etc. I will watch this movie.

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Wagner's music samples as a microcosm of what is occurring with the rising tension from the music and the climax occurring at the same time that the most brutal aspects of the beatings are occurring. It helps ratchet up the intensity and can cause the viewers imagination to create a vivid picture of what is happening off camera.

 

Since this is a later noir film after WW2 there is the very strong anti-fascist sentiment that on one hand may be accurate in some of the portrayals of how they 'create' the truth that they want to hear it also seems to be very obvious that the director very much wanted that portrayal to occur. So while I don't think it's inaccurate I think people could have looked at the history of the director and decided that they felt he was mis-representing those people.

 

It is chilling to see what could happen when governments or any type of powerful organization gets out of control and forgets the reason why they exist.

 

M

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As many others have pointed out, the music lays a key role in this scene.  For me, it actually makes the violence all the more jarring to hear this classical music playing during such a brutal beating.  Often classical music is used to indicate a cultured, intellectual individual, but that is obviously not the case here.  The beating actually ebbs and flows to the music, almost as if it is some kind of strange dance. 

 

Just a few slaps by the captain are shown, but it’s enough to plant the image into the viewer’s head.  As he goes around the room the dread builds as he closes the shades and puts the rubber tube on the desk.  We see the first hit with the tube, but we don’t see it land.  Instead we see all the men outside the office, listening to each hit and doing nothing.  When the worst of beating occurs, after the music has been turned up, we see and hear nothing, but we know exactly what is happening.  The irony of a framed picture of the captain in uniform, looking on, is noted in this section.  The end is equally disturbing, as the captain washes his hands, as if he can simply “wash away” what he has just done; he doesn’t feel the horror of what he has just done at all. 

 

Again, many have noticed how this scene from Brute Force connects to the existentialist themes.  There is a sense of dread throughout the scene as Louis is helpless in the Captain’s hands.  He is powerless, as are the men just outside the door, to stop the beating.  Many others have discussed parallels to Fascism in this scene, which also marks it of the time. 

 

However, there is also an undercurrent of sexuality to the scene.  The Captain is almost in state of undress, wearing only an undershirt throughout the scene.  There is also some…interesting placement of the rubber tube; at times it is very clearly a phallic symbol.  The violence is linked with the Captain’s manhood.

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In Brute Force (1947), when the Wagner music is at its dramatic peak, or, turned up in volume, Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn) increases his severe beatings of prison newspaper reporter Louis (Sam Levene).  As the Wagner music is turned up in volume, we also see pictures of objects (i.e. plants and photo of Captian Munsey) in the room as Captain Munsey with the rubber pipe in hand goes toward the prisoner.  These objects in the room are the only other witnesses to the horrific beating of prison newspaper reporter Louis by the hands (and rubber pipe) of the cruel and sadistic Captain Munsey.

 

At the beginning of the scene and up to when Captain Munsey dismisses the guard from the room before the beating begins, everything is grounded in realism, as-is, and not exaggerated.  When the guard has left, it becomes formalistic and surreal with many shadows, Captain Munsey bringing out his rubber pipe preparing for the beating to ensue, and, the music adding intensity, horror and suspense.  A noir motif or Existential one of hopelessness and despair is conveyed each time the prison newspaper reporter Louis eyes the rubber pipe that Captain Munsey places on the table or is holding in his hand.  Louis is resigned to the beating that will follow.

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I find the music has two roles in this scene.

 

First it builds the dramatic tension. At the start of the scene it is simply background music, although it is light and playful, not what you would expect to hear. As the tension in the room escalates - the blinds are drawn, the room is enveloped in darkness and Hume Cronyn's character, the captain, becomes more sinister - the music escalates as well. It begins to swell, the strings repeat and amplify the nervous tension in the room. As the captain lifts the stick to again beat the reporter, the music hits its high, dramatic notes. When the beating is over, he turns the music off.

 

The music also is used to hide the sounds of the beating. The captain turns it up when he is "going in for the kill/confession" then turns it off when he is done (there won't be anymore sounds of beating or screams he needs to hide).

 

I think it fits in with post war noir because there appears to be a loss of freedom for the reporter, who is beaten by a man in authority with "brute force" and seemingly no justification. That feeds into the fears of Americans who at the time were not trusting of authority or strangers and feared their own loss of freedom.

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The music just makes all beating seems stronger, more brutal. The music compass is vigorous, just like the violence by its own. Once the dirctror couldn't show the spanking itself, he choosed to power it up with the means he had to do it.

 

The early postwar films increased the dissulionism, the disbelief at that present and future. People coming back from war made society think and feel different about the relation between individuals. There are some of the answers for us to see that much violence and agony in so many films.

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As many others have pointed out, the music lays a key role in this scene.  For me, it actually makes the violence all the more jarring to hear this classical music playing during such a brutal beating.  Often classical music is used to indicate a cultured, intellectual individual, but that is obviously not the case here.  The beating actually ebbs and flows to the music, almost as if it is some kind of strange dance. 

 

Just a few slaps by the captain are shown, but it’s enough to plant the image into the viewer’s head.  As he goes around the room the dread builds as he closes the shades and puts the rubber tube on the desk.  We see the first hit with the tube, but we don’t see it land.  Instead we see all the men outside the office, listening to each hit and doing nothing.  When the worst of beating occurs, after the music has been turned up, we see and hear nothing, but we know exactly what is happening.  The irony of a framed picture of the captain in uniform, looking on, is noted in this section.  The end is equally disturbing, as the captain washes his hands, as if he can simply “wash away” what he has just done; he doesn’t feel the horror of what he has just done at all. 

 

Again, many have noticed how this scene from Brute Force connects to the existentialist themes.  There is a sense of dread throughout the scene as Louis is helpless in the Captain’s hands.  He is powerless, as are the men just outside the door, to stop the beating.  Many others have discussed parallels to Fascism in this scene, which also marks it of the time. 

 

However, there is also an undercurrent of sexuality to the scene.  The Captain is almost in state of undress, wearing only an undershirt throughout the scene.  There is also some…interesting placement of the rubber tube; at times it is very clearly a phallic symbol.  The violence is linked with the Captain’s manhood.

agree.  Noticed the sexual/power undertones myself.

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The fact that the music was chosen by the character, not just music-over, is telling along with the picture of the wall and the plants in the window box. These elements are have all very Nazi overtones. As a matter of fact, Wagner is the musician most identified with Nazi Germany, his music often used in the concentration camps as a form of torture for the prisoners and show of strength by the Nazis. Although he died 50 years prior to Hitler's coming to power, Wagner wrote extensively about his hatred of "Jewery" and support of the growing German nationalism.

The strings in Wagner's Overture (of the opera Tannhauser?)  almost scream in their high pitch as Louis is beaten by Cpt. Munsey. The rise and fall of the music matches perfectly with the intensity of the scene as if Munsey's actions are the natural rise and fall of the music, inspired and driven by it.

 

The wonderful irony of Jules Dassin using Wagner in this highly stylized, artistic presentation of the beating scene is that Wagner wrote that the Jewish people could only "speak in imitation of others, make art in imitation of others; he cannot really speak, write or create art on his own."

Dassin, in this scene, is not only equating Munsey and his abuse of his power and authority with the Nazi torturers and officials, but also is at the same time, thumbing his nose at Wagner and his statement that Dassin, as a Jew, could not create art!

Love it!!!!

 

The scene is staged with Munsey in his "wife-beater" t-shirt (he wears most likely so not to get sweat and blood on his shirt - he has done this before) and Louis seated in the chair with a policeman in uniform holding his billy club at the ready. This is to show that this is official police brutality. Munsey closing the blinds shows that it is to be hidden, even though all the men in the next room and this policeman are all witnesses to the whole thing. It is a systemic problem.

Interestingly, outside the room, a group of police detectives, I assume, are playing cards and one of them stands and shows his disgust of what is happening in the next room as the others, sit resigned to the fate of the man being beaten. (It is "out of their hands.")

This is typical of the film noir's projection of the post-war feeing of distrust of police and the "establishment." This reflected the disillusionment of the men coming back from WWII, after seeing the pain and atrocities of war only to come home and feel disconnected and alienated from the structure and orderly society they once believed existed. They found that government was flawed and saw that there were no real good guys and bad guys. Most officials were tainted and driven by their own selfish agendas causing the "everyman" to make his own way, not based on good and evil but on the struggle to survive.

After the beating, and Louis passes out, Munsey calls in the policeman, cleans his hands (washes his hands of him) and tells him to take him to solitary and tell the story that he was hurt in an accident coming out of the drainpipe. He also calmly and without any hint of remorse, states that Louis had nothing to do with it. "He would have told me."

All in a day's work.

 

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