Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    Brute Force Portrait by John Decker, Owned by Producer Mark Hellinger. The lady in the portrait is wickedly haunting, gaining in her perverse power as one learns the portrait's history.

    She was the creation of John Decker, the notorious Hollywood artist, forger, and crony of such besotted geniuses as John Barrymore, Errol Flynn, and W. C. Fields (whom Decker once painted, in Old Masters style, as Queen Victoria). Producer Mark Hellinger commissioned the portrait for Brute Force, his 1947 classic noir prison melodrama starring Burt Lancaster as a rebellious inmate and Hume Cronyn as a sadistic captain of the guards who tortures a prisoner while listening to Wagnerian opera. Decker supposedly made his The Lady of Brute Force an arch, baroque blend of actresses Ella Raines, Ann Blyth, and Yvonne De Carlo (the three leading ladies of Brute Force), and the result served as the cell inmates' calendar girl whose alluring image, beheld each night before lights out, triggered the various convicts' grim memories.

    Yet the back story becomes stranger... and darker. The woman in the portrait, eyes closed, shoulders bare, appears dead, or perhaps undead, almost vampiric - and the fact is that Decker enjoyed visiting Los Angeles morgues and painting pictures of female cadavers. (He once gifted Ida Lupino a painting of a Mexican girl on a slab with her throat cut.) Decker signed and dated his Lady of Brute Force portrait 1947; he died that year on June 7, and Universal-International Studios released Brute Force three weeks after his death. Mark Hellinger so admired Decker's piece that he displayed it in his home, but he had a tragically short time to admire it -- he too died in 1947 at the age of 44, less than six months after Brute Force's release.

    Might The Lady of Brute Force have a curse upon it? Unlikely -- it has benignly remained in the Hellinger family for over 60 years, perennially attracting admirers but presumably tallying no victims. The matted portrait (composed in delicate layers of compressed charcoal) measures 16" x 18.5". The Decker signature is pronounced and the piece survives in Excellent condition with all of its strange, "afterglow" quality.

    Undeniably beautiful, strangely seductive, The Lady of Brute Force has an aura that is both eerie and voluptuous, as if she came slinking out of a John Decker nightmare and luxuriantly died in his arms. This is a fascinating curio on several levels -- an artifact from a brilliantly dark film, an heirloom from the family of a gutsy producer, and the final macabre masterpiece from a profanely brilliant artist whose work is ripe for rediscovery. A stunner! From the Mark Hellinger Archive.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    February, 2009
    21st-22nd Saturday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 7
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,611

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    19.5% of the successful bid (minimum $9) per lot.

    Sold for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)
    Track Item

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2021 April 11 Guitars and Musical Instruments Signature Auction - Dallas.

    Learn about consigning with us

    The movie quite literally changed my life. I have included a pic of me in Sly's Rocky 3 Cashmere overcoat, would much appreciate if it is possible for you to forward this email to Sly to let him know the overcoat is in good hands, and will be well taken care of, (as will be the Rambo knife forging tools, the other lot I won!) Wish you very happy holidays and a great 2016!
    Atul J. ,
    Irvine, CA
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search