Dr. Walters:: What makes you drunk? Power?
A world of brute force is portrayed in this violent film. Westgate prison and the will to escape of prisoners Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) and Gallagher (Charles Bickford) are a metaphor of society – we should remember the social commitment of director Jules Dassin. In fact the prisoners are portrayed as victims of an oppressive system (a few of them are there for romantic reasons) that won’t give them any chance. As Gallagher states: Those gates only open three times. When you come in, when you've served your time, or when you're dead!
On the other hand nazi-like prison guard Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn) is a portrait of fascist ambition for power and rebellion against him and the system seems the only way to escape from that nightmare.
Gallagher: That's cemetery talk.
Joe Collins: Why not, we're buried, ain't we? Only thing is, we ain't dead.
The apocalyptic final attack against Munsey and the tower is a symbol of rebellion against a rotten form of power (a few of the artists who participated in this film would become later victims of the McCarthy campaign). Captain Munsey will be killed (as Dr Walters had told him: Force does make leaders. But you forget one thing: it also destroys them) but the system will remain…
The prisoners remembering their past lives (with a series of flashbacks) was the only way to escape from that world. But in fact they were all doomed…Dr. Walters: Nobody escapes. Nobody ever really escapes