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Brubaker movie poster.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed byStuart Rosenberg
Produced byRon Silverman
Screenplay byW. D. Richter
Story by
Based on
Accomplices to the Crime: The Arkansas Prison Scandal
Music byLalo Schifrin
CinematographyBruno Nuytten
Edited byRobert Brown
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • June 20, 1980 (1980-06-20)
Running time
132 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$9 million[1] or $13 million[2]
Box office$37,121,708[3]

Brubaker is a 1980 American prison drama film directed by Stuart Rosenberg. It stars Robert Redford as a newly arrived prison warden, Henry Brubaker, who attempts to clean up a corrupt and violent penal system. The screenplay by W. D. Richter is a fictionalized version of the 1969 book, Accomplices to the Crime: The Arkansas Prison Scandal by Tom Murton and Joe Hyams, detailing Murton's uncovering of the 1967 prison scandal.

The film features a large supporting cast, including Yaphet Kotto, Jane Alexander, Murray Hamilton, David Keith, Tim McIntire, Matt Clark, M. Emmet Walsh, Everett McGill, and an early appearance by Morgan Freeman. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 1981 Academy Awards.


In 1969, a man arrives at Wakefield State Prison in Arkansas. As an inmate, he immediately witnesses rampant abuse and corruption, including open and endemic sexual assault, torture, worm-ridden diseased food, insurance fraud and a doctor charging inmates for care. During a dramatic standoff involving Walter, a deranged prisoner who was being held in solitary confinement, Brubaker reveals himself to be the new prison warden, to the amazement of both prisoners and officials alike.

With ideals and vision, he attempts to reform the prison, with an eye towards prisoner rehabilitation and human rights. He recruits several long-time prisoners, including trustees Larry Lee Bullen and Richard "Dickie" Coombes, to assist him with the reform. Their combined efforts slowly improve the prison conditions, but his stance enrages several corrupt officials on the prison board who have profited from graft for decades.

When Brubaker discovers multiple unmarked graves on prison property, he attempts to unravel the mystery, leading to political scandal. A trustee decides to make a run for it when he realizes that he might be held accountable for killing an inmate. The resulting gunfight, in which Bullen is killed, proves to be the clincher that the prison board needs (acting with the tacit approval of the governor) to fire Brubaker.


In addition, Wilford Brimley, Nathan George and William Newman appeared as Prison Board members, John McMartin played a State Senator, and future Academy Award for Best Actor Nicolas Cage appeared in an uncredited background role as a prisoner, one year before his first credited role.



The film is based on the real-life experiences of warden Thomas Murton, co-author with Joe Hyams of the 1969 book, Accomplices to the Crime: The Arkansas Prison Scandal.[4][5] In 1967, he was hired by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller to reform Arkansas' Tucker State and Cummins State Prison Farms, but Murton was dismissed less than a year into the job because his work was creating too much bad publicity for the state's penal system — in particular, the discovery of numerous graves belonging to prisoners who had been killed in these prisons.[6] Much of the squalid conditions, violence and corruption depicted in the film was the subject of a 1970 federal court case, Holt v. Sarver, in which the federal court ruled that Arkansas' prison system violated inmates' constitutional rights, and ordered reform.


Rosenberg replaced Bob Rafelson, who was removed as director early in production. This would become Rosenberg's second prison film after directing Cool Hand Luke in 1967.

Most exteriors were filmed at the then-recently closed Junction City Prison in Junction City, southeast of Columbus in central Ohio.[7] Additional locations included Bremen, New Lexington, and the Fairfield County Fairgrounds in Lancaster. The opening scenes of the prison bus departure show the skyline and a view up South Front Street in Columbus.


A paperback screenplay novelization by the celebrated and award-winning American novelist and short story writer William Harrison was issued shortly in advance of the film's release (as was the custom of the era) by Ballantine Books.


Brubaker was a critical and commercial success. Produced on a budget of $9 million, the film grossed $37,121,708[3] in North America, earning $19.3 million in theatrical rentals,[8] making it the 19th highest-grossing film of 1980.[9] The movie was also well received by critics,[5] holding a 75% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes based on 24 reviews.[10]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said, "The movie (refuses) to permit its characters more human dimensions. We want to know these people better, but the screenplay throws up a wall; they act according to the ideological positions assigned to them in the screenplay, and that's that. ... Half of Redford's speeches could have come out of newspaper editorials, but we never find out much about him, What's his background? Was he ever married? Is this his first prison job? What's his relationship with the Jane Alexander character, who seems to have gotten him this job? (Alexander has one almost subliminal moment when she fans her neck and looks at Redford and, seems to be thinking unpolitical thoughts, but the movie hurries on.) Brubaker is a well-crafted film that does a harrowingly effective job of portraying the details of its prison, but then it populates it with positions rather than people."[11]




See also[edit]


  1. ^ Box Office Information for Brubaker. Archived 2013-12-11 at the Wayback Machine The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  2. ^ Theater Owners Blame Box Office Blues This Summer on Lower Quality of Movies Wall Street Journal 8 July 1980: 15.
  3. ^ a b Box Office Information for Brubaker. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  4. ^ Streelman, Ben (July 6, 1980). "Redfords 'Brubaker' gets a bitter look at a Southern prison". Wilmington (NC) Star-News. p. 13-B.
  5. ^ a b Canby, Vincent (June 20, 1980). ""Brubaker" stars Redford as jail reformer". The New York Times. Retrieved December 11, 2013.
  6. ^ Hall, Sarah Moore (July 21, 1980). "Redford Plays Him Like a Hero, but the Real 'Brubaker' Can't Get a Prison Job". People. Retrieved December 11, 2013.
  7. ^ Paseman, Lloyd (July 6, 1980). "Latest Redford film belongs in 'solitary'". Eugene Register-Guard. p. 3B.
  8. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p234. Please note figures are rentals accruing to distributors and not total gross.
  9. ^ 1980 Domestic Grosses. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  10. ^ Brubaker, Movie Reviews. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 23, 1980). "Brubaker". Retrieved December 11, 2013.

External links[edit]