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When this was released students attending Roman Catholic grammar schools
were encouraged to see it, since it was an account of the Hungarian
Joszef Cardinal Mindzenty's courageous stand against the Communist regime
that had his native land within its ruthlessly cruel clutches. Charles
Bickford, an actor of considerable gravitas, was a good choice to play
Cardinal, and, among the cast, Bonita Granville, the wife of this film's
producer, Jack Wrather, was another of those arrested, interrogated and
tortured by the Hungarian Communist regime, then still firmly in place at
the time of this film's release.
I can still recall some rather graphic scenes of torture, including victims chained and forced to endure alternately scalding hot and freezing cold showers, and being strapped to chairs that spun dizzyingly for what was made to seem many agonizing minutes at a time. Nightmares precipitated by a viewing of this film haunted my dreams for quite a few months thereafter. It has always been a source of bewilderment to me that political and religious regimes use torture to break down the resistance of those opposed to their cruel and manifest untruth. What have they proved when they drag forth their victims to attest to their supposed "crimes"? Those who know the truth but have somehow escaped the terrible fate of their compatriots know that the "confessions" elicited by their hated oppressors are a sham. What they also know is that, at the Final Judgment, something which the concept of justice assures all honest hearts and minds will someday occur, the Lord's vengeance will be swift and eternal, and Satan himself will be assigned the task of meting out tortures more horrible than anything inflicted on this plane.
This movie was a perfect example of good propaganda. With a blunt instrument, it assaults the viewer with the stark facts of the Soviet domination of Hungary. This is a movie that shows an appreciation of what was happening behind the "iron curtain", before it was known by that name . The most amazing truth revealed is that over 50 years later, the Catholic Church still preaches the same principles. It is eerie to put today's characters into the roles cast in the movie, but that is what the movie is about: that the Russians replaced the Nazis as the world's greatest oppressors. I also noted that the character who was accused of plagiarism considered it an honor, as long as the words he stole were worth stealing. This character had the most resemblance to a real person, and I suspect that the screenwriter put a little more of himself into that character. He may have felt that he was "plagiarizing" a lot of the popular sentiment behind this movie, using cliche phrases and such. Still, viewed as a historical piece of American culture, this movie tells the story of good vs. evil in the most realistic and straightforward way that I've ever seen in a Hollywood film. This is when Hollywood CARED about freedom and human rights, and knew that we were on the right side in that fight. Nowadays, Hollywood portrays Catholics as evil more often than not, and the USA as the tyrannical occupying oppressor, either directly or peripherally. There are so many levels to this movie, even if the acting wasn't the greatest. This is a classic cultural movie in that it expresses true political activism of it's day, even dabbling in feminism. I highly recommend this movie as an antidote for today's culture of Anti-Americanism, and Anti-Catholicism. If this movie were remade today, I would imagine that the Russian commander would find religion, and marry the Hungarian girl, while the Soviet Empire crumbled around them. That would be a romantic story with a happy ending, and be faithful to history, as this movie was. Too bad that today's Hollywood wouldn't touch that story with a 10 foot pole! This movie could have been more subtle, but it is powerful as historical propaganda. The message makes up for the lack in other areas, and there are even spots of greatness in the acting, writing, and shooting of this movie. Overall, it's an average period piece, but after knowing what we know now, it carries much more weight than it did originally.
Chris Leavitt, Lynbrook, NY
I had never heard of this one before coming across it (via the Alpha DVD) at a local rental outlet; though I had expressed interest in watching it at the time, I did not get hold of the film until acquiring the more renowned later version of the same events THE PRISONER (1955) but, then, am only checking out either in time for the pious Easter season. The film deals with the famous trial in which Josef Mindszenty, a Hungarian Cardinal played here by Charles Bickford, is victimized for daring to stand up against Communism. The narrative, however, also takes in the experiences of a number of people who become involved in his plight chiefly a local girl (Bonita Granville who, in spite of her clandestine relationship with Soviet officer Richard Derr, ends up tortured and killed for her troubles) and a middle-aged American reporter (Paul Kelly, who suffers himself at the hands of a neo-Nazi group!). Ironically, given the obvious anti-Red stance being promoted, GUILTY OF TREASON is most comparable in its preachiness to Hollywood efforts with Marxist leanings such as THE MASTER RACE (1944). As was the case with that one, too, the film under review manages to balance heavy-going (albeit clearly impassioned) politics with a variety of Noir trappings: for instance, the trial sequence is depicted in a stylized fashion with Bickford standing in a beam of light at the center of the room while his accusers remain in the shadows. Compelling, modestly impressive and extremely well-acted, this proved a very nice surprise indeed which, in retrospect, has been unjustly neglected over the years.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Guilty of Treason" is a Cold War era film about the Soviet-dominated
Hungarian government's prosecution of a Cardinal because he was
critical of the regime installed by Stalin. It's told from the
standpoint of an American reporter (Paul Kelly) and the churchman is
played by Charles Bickford. While you might not recognize her because
most of her famous roles were as a child actress, Bonita Granville also
plays a supporting role.
The film has its faults--and the biggest one is that NO ONE sounds the least bit Hungarian or Russian. However, the film is exciting and well done--especially with its limited budget. I almost gave the film an 8, actually, as apart from a few tiny gripes, it's very well made.
When you watch "Guilty of Treason" you may easily assume it's just a Cold War propaganda piece. After all, the characters seem pretty one-dimensional and the Soviets sure seem evil. However, and this is an important point, the story IS essentially true! There really was a Cardinal József Mindszenty and he really was a political prisoner and he really did get sent to prison for refusing to keep silent about his opposition to the Stalinist takeover of Hungary. The story about his life AFTER the film "Guilty of Treason" is really interesting and would make a great film. It seems that after being sentenced to life in prison, the Cardinal eventually was released during the brief Hungarian uprising in 1956. However, this was quickly crushed by the Soviets and Mindszenty was forced to seek asylum in the US embassy--where he remained for the next 15 years! Eventually, in 1971, he was allowed to go free and immigrated to Austria.
This movie came out 63 years before the release of "Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism," by Ronald Rychlak and Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa. The same points in this film which anti anti-communists and religious skeptics and bigots resent or deny have been more than confirmed by Pacepa's detailed and carefully constructed memoir. Pacepa, former acting chief of communist Romania's espionage service and senior person in the Soviet Union's "Dezinformatsiya" campaign, reveals what Communist disinformation accomplished and wrought. His account of Mindszenty's plight only substantiates the entire plot and dialogue of this movie. In fact, what we learn in this production is fact, as opposed to the highly fictionalized accounts of Che Guevara.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although the film Guilty Of Treason takes place in the late 40s when I
was too little to comprehend the events, I well remember the coda on
the Mindzsenty story in 1956. I was all of 9 years old when the
Hungarian Revolution took place. In the wake of the fall of the Soviet
backed satellite government, Cardinal Joseph Mindzsenty was freed and
immediately took residence in the US Embassy. Wise move because the
Russians moved in and crushed what would have been another Tito like
Yugoslave regime, an independent Marxist government. That independent
part was not something the Russians would tolerate. I also remember in
my class that year we got a Hungarian refugee girl named Veronica
Joseph Mindzsenty was named Cardinal primate of Hungary by Pope Pius XII and had the bad luck of then being imprisoned by the Nazis who occupied the country. When the Soviets liberated Hungary like in other Eastern European countries they overstayed their welcome to make sure that Stalin would have friendly allied governments. Mindzsenty didn't like that at all and spoke out against it. For his outspokenness he was jailed after a forced confession.
Charles Bickford played a resolute and determined Mindzsenty and I wish the film had stuck to his story. But they also added a love story between Hungarian girl Bonita Granville and Russian Colonel Richard Derr which took up about half the film. The film was narrated by Paul Kelly playing an American newspaper reporter who was covering the Sovietization of Hungary.
The Mindzsenty stuff was true it was unnecessary to bring in some extraneous and ridiculous romantic side story.
This film aptly portrays how the Russians and Americans tried to bore each other to death during the cold war.Unfortunately, this kind of anti-Russian propaganda is almost impossible to sit through. If you're not fond of Catholic priests, avoid like the plague. Even if you are, Charles Bickford's portrayal of a Hungarian man of God's refusal to toe the Kremlin line is bordering on the catatonic, as if they had already hypnotised him into submission before filming began; you'd have to be hypnotised to agree to filming a script this stodgy, this talky, where almost every dramatic opportunity is botched.Paul Kelly and Bonita Granville try to bring some life into it, but only Roland Winters, as the evil ever-smiling manipulator, seems to be having any fun. Recommend it to people you don't like.
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