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It's Inevitable. Comparisons Will Be Made
by Jon Schuller

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The stories and plots of literally dozens of movies are similar, if not exactly the same. Maybe the nuances are subtle, maybe they're obvious. Maybe it takes several decades for a new treatment to appear and the effects of time, attitudes and the players themselves all make a new film look and sound distinct. The lists could be endless as we scroll through dramas, mysteries, action/adventure, comedies, musicals, biographies and comedies. It's fun to compare and contrast, especially when you have your own personal list of favorites. Sequels are a different breed altogether. Think about the pictures with Indiana Jones as the main character over the years. Or, James Bond since 1962. No I'm talking about types of movies. In today's column I have 2 films about prisons and prisoners which I've written about before individually. Both are rather distinct in locations, characters, stories and plots. One was filmed in the late 1940s; the other almost 20 years later. One group of actors are Americans, the others are British. One group are soldiers, the other are criminals. I wrote about both pictures, co-incidentally, in 2017. Brute Force premiered in June, 1947. The Hill premiered in May, 1965.

Brute Force, just 2 years after the end of World War II, examines prison life for the toughest men, men who may have even served their country and are now spending what's left doing hard time behind bars. They dream of freedom and what mistakes they made that got them where are. Women figured prominently in some of their lives. The discipline is extremely tough, enforced by a sadistic
Captain of the Guard (Hume Cronyn). He constantly pushes the men beyond their limits, exacting a toll on each that is gathering tensions and rebellions under the surface. He secretly enjoys the merciless insults and punishments he metes out to each man, knowing their limits and what will set them off. The warden wants peace at any cost and gives Munsey a free hand. The prison doctor is weak and sympathetic to the men's plight. The main character, Joe, is portrayed by Burt Lancaster. He's become the unspoken leader and finally realizes there's only one way out: devise a mass escape plan so all the prisoners, in all the cell blocks, can have freedom.

Munsey finds out about the plan but allows the prisoners to carry it out. He surprises them as they try to break out through the main gate with a truck. The truck becomes stuck there, the men are massacred but not before Joe picks him up over his head and throws Munsey to his death from the top of the prison's walls. We know, at the end, that life in this prison will become worse and worse after the failed prison break-out. No chances for escape or freedom. We realize that more punishments are coming, more hard time, more deaths.

The Hill is about a British Army prison camp in the North African desert, for English soldiers in World War Two. They are there for various offences, some slight, some serious. Discipline in the ranks is still maintained as many of these men look forward to their freedom, although that mainly means returning to the ranks and fighting on the front lines against the German Army in unspeakably
tough desert warfare. If they've insulted an officer they're there. If they've struck another soldier, or worse, struck an officer, they're there. If they've used a weapon outside of combat, they're there. Luckily, this isn't a prison camp for soldiers who've committed murder outside of combat. They are all assigned to cell blocks and every block has a staff sergeant who maintains ridgid order and discipline.

Harry Andrews portrays Regimental Sergeant Major Bert Wilson to whom all the other sergeants report. The camp's commandant spends his free time with whores and leaves the running of the day-to-day operations of the camp to Wilson. A new Staff Sergeant, Williams, played by Ian Hendry, has joined them. His methods are just plain nasty and intended to make the men suffer. He's been assigned to a new group of men just arrived in the camp. These prisoners are as different from each other as they can be. Sean Connery as Staff Sergeant Joe Roberts who struck a superior officer because of a battle order that got all his men killed. Alfred Lynch as George Stevens, Ossie Davis as Jacko King, Roy Kinnear as Monty Bartlett and Jack Watson as Jock McGrath are the other prisoners in the group. As Williams forces the men to climb the Hill the large sand mound used for discipline - in temperatures well above 100 degrees, the men begin to bond together. Even when they're exhausted Williams pushes them in full packs to climb the Hill until one of them, Stevens, dies from exhaustion. After a while, the one Staff Sergeant who's sympathetic and less harsh, Charlie Harris (Ian
Bannen) reports it to the regimental Sergeant Major and the camp physician (Michael Redgrave). He also tells them that Williams has been meting out excessive punishments to the men. Wilson says he runs the camp and no problems have ever occurred as long as he's been there.

In the end, the doctor wants to make a full report to the Camp Commandant. Joe's been hurt and must go into hospital. Williams will be disciplined and the men returned to their cell to finish their sentences. Joe is on a stretcher as Williams enters the cell and berates the men. King and McGrath attack Williams as Joe looks on helplessly, yelling that they'll screw everything up and they'll be punished, not Williams. That's how the film ends.

These two movies are great by themselves and treat the same subject from different viewpoints. But the frustrations, fears and terrible conditions they live under are all similar. The men are confined to small spaces and their freedoms have disappeared, replaced by harsh treatments, terrible food and living conditions. Some argue that's what prisons are for. But pent-up emotions can (and have in real life) lead to prison riots and even harsher penalties when the riots are quelled, the leaders punished and the prison routines are established again. How the two famous directors (Jules Dassin and Sidney Lumet) of these pictures treated their subjects is fascinating to watch and discuss. If you have a chance, please watch them and then make your own judgments. The actors in both movies are among the best in America and England. That alone should be an incentive.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.


Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

When Is It Leaving? Where Is It Going?

I'd Forgotten About That Completely

He's a Spy? Yeah. Right.

May I Quote You On That?

A Penultimate Year For Movies

All Columns


Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 29 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).



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If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.


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