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12 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Two Pros Light Up the Screen

9/10
Author: Reb9 from Houston
25 July 2001

This film is often overlooked but if you can find it, it is well worth your while. Adapted from a stage play it is admittedly slow and talky, but it does challenge the intellect. Guiness and Hawkins are brilliant as a churchman consumed with self doubt and a zealot consumed with the state. Their battle of wits forms the crux of this many layered work. A rather pale love story added to the screen play simply detracts from the films power. This is a film that will challenge you to think. It requires work on the part of the viewer and, as a result, is not everyone's cup of tea. Any fan of great acting shouldn't miss it.

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10 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Two-Man Show

Author: Ephraim Gadsby from USA
9 August 2001

Though the wonderful Wilfred Lawson gives a good turn as a jailer, this is basically a two-man show, based on a play. The two men are fine actors: Alec Guinness, as the beloved Cardinal arrested by the state in a generic Eastern European Cold War setting; and Jack Hawkins, as the state inquisitor, trying to coerce the Cardinal into making untrue confessions for a show trial.

Both men are brilliant, though Guinness is perhaps too impenetrable, not only for his inquisitors, but for the audience. Hawkins' character and Guinness's worked together in the Resistance against the Nazis; since then, Hawkins has become a high Communist official trying to eradicate the church from public life.

At first, the movie seems like a cat-and-mouse game between two fanatics, though erudite and educated fanatics, one believing in the church and the other in the ultimate power of the state. Hawkins keeps his well-practiced geniality, though, while Guinness, under mental torture (Hawkins knew Guinness had suffered physical torture under the Nazis and was inured to it) begins to show cracks.

While the movie is hardly a cliff-hanger, and doesn't discuss religion or even totalitarianism in any great depth, the performances by the leads are intense, and worth watching for the acting alone, even though one may be puzzled by what it's all about.

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8 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

"The Result Of Human Weakness"

7/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
9 November 2008

Alec Guinness got to repeat one of the roles he did on the London stage with the screen adaption of Bridget Boland's The Prisoner which was directed by Peter Glenville who also did the original stage production. It was one of Guinness's personal favorites among his parts because of the Catholicism of the actor.

In fact the role really hit close, maybe too close to home, because like the character he plays in the film, Guinness was a child of a prostitute mother who escaped into acting as a refuge from a really bad childhood. Just as his character the Cardinal of an unnamed Balkan country now ruled by a Marxist dictatorship went into the church as a way of rising above the station he was born in life.

Jack Hawkins plays the state inquisitor, a psychologist by training who probes and finds the weakness in Guinness and uses it to get a confession of treason out of him. Pride and vanity are the trickiest of human sins, we're all guilty of it in one way or another.

In making this film Guinness, Boland, and Glenville were all adamant about keeping the main character Catholic and not some Christian preacher of an unnamed denomination as what the producers originally wanted to do, the better for a broader appeal they reasoned. Catholicism and the special burdens and duties it places on its clergy is precisely what makes the story valid.

According to a recent biography of Alec Guinness though it was never going to be anyone else but him in the role of the Cardinal, Noel Willman had done the inquisitor part on stage. Several people like John Gielgud and Peter Bull were considered for that part before Hawkins was signed for the role.

If the subject matter does seem familiar, the role is obviously modeled on Josef Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary. And director Peter Glenville would have his greatest screen triumph in Becket, the story of another troublesome priest several centuries earlier.

Guinness does lay bare his soul in this film. For fans of Alec Guinness this film is a must.

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6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

THE PRISONER (Peter Glenville, 1955) ***

7/10
Author: MARIO GAUCI (marrod@melita.com) from Naxxar, Malta
11 April 2009

Inspired by the plight of Catholic Cardinal Josef Mindszenty behind the Iron Curtain – already the subject of a worthwhile low-budget Hollywood film, GUILTY OF TREASON (1950; see above) – this prestigious British production (based on a Bridget Boland play, who adapts her own work for the screen) boasts two powerhouse performances by Alec Guinness (as the proud Prince of the Church) and Jack Hawkins (as the wily Interrogator). Their interaction is a beauty to behold and one cannot help but be reminded how these formidable actors had already worked together in, curiously enough, MALTA STORY (1953) and, of course, would go on to do so again under David Lean's Oscar-winning direction in THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957) and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962). Although much of the running time is devoted to their rigorous one-on-one sessions (enough for it to be deemed a two-hander), the film allows (at least) another fine actor to shine: Wilfred Lawson as Guinness' jailer who grows to respect his prisoner with time. The small cast also includes Kenneth Griffith as Hawkins' eager-to-learn subordinate – incidentally, the latter also appeared in two episodes of Patrick McGoohan's later cult TV series of the same name but which bore no relation to this movie! – and Raymond Huntley as Hawkins' impatient superior. Conversely, the romantic subplot between doubting Communist Ronald Lewis and his Catholic girlfriend Jeanette Sterke seems forced and intrusive – almost like an afterthought (whereas it had been far more effectively handled in the aforementioned Hollywood treatment). But, as I said before, the film's trump card is its gradual depiction of the evolving relationship between the two leads, which really has no equivalent in GUILTY OF TREASON (where Charles Bickford's tormentors were various and generally shrouded in darkness). Although the main characters and the setting remain unnamed throughout (lending it a pretentious air of political allegory also missing from the earlier film), the controversial subject of THE PRISONER got it banned from participating in both the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals – although it did get nominated for 5 BAFTAs and, eventually, won a couple of other international awards.

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10 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Over-looked masterpiece!

10/10
Author: Freddie Knight
25 January 2004

A classic sadly almost ignored and forgotten probably because of it's small scale being a quite simple screen version of the popular stage play. Alec Guinness is the Cardinal arrested by the state during the Cold War, Jack Hawkins is the state inquisitor trying to break him. Ex comrades in arms, fighting in the Resistance against the Nazis; they now find themselves on opposing sides of Church and State. An intense battle of wills ensues, superb performances all round including Wilfred Lawson as the jailer. Highly recommended.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Thrilling Chilling battle of wits. One of the best.

9/10
Author: ozthegreatat42330 from Central City, Kentucky
3 February 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This little black and white gem features Alec Guinness("Lawrence of Arabia" "Star Wars-A New Hope") and Jack Hawkins("Ben Hur") as the opposing sides in a subtle film of brainwashing and psychological torture. Guinness is the Cardinal, a cold, authoritarian leader of the church against the state. Hawkins is the specialist who must break him in a very short period of time to embarrass the church and remove it's power with the people. Both men are destined to come out of the experience changed forever.

With a fine supporting cast, the film is centered on these two very strong performances which give the cold war a brand new meaning.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

'Darkness At Noon' Without The Laughs

2/10
Author: Bill Slocum (bill.slocum@gmail.com) from Greenwich, CT United States
25 November 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Even for a jailroom drama with a closed-in set and a minimum of exposition, "The Prisoner" is one clenched movie.

In an unnamed city in an unnamed country, an unnamed cardinal (Alec Guinness) is interrogated for crimes against the state. His unnamed interrogator (Jack Hawkins) sets the case for the audience in unusually stark terms.

"You represent a religion which provides an organization outside the state," he says.

The cardinal states his position as boldly: "I am difficult to trap and impossible to persuade. I am tenacious, wary, and proud."

Obviously based on the repression of Catholic leaders in Eastern Europe after World War II, "The Prisoner" suffers from the sin of its obviousness. Everything about this film seems designed to fit into the right round holes. There's a jokey jailer, an overbearing functionary, even a shoehorned romantic subplot.

At one point, we see a young man writing the words "Free Beliefs Free Speech" on a wall. I guess he was too preoccupied to share what those beliefs might be. No matter; before he finishes a policeman walks up and shoots him, I guess because it is more symbolic than arresting him.

The stand-off between Guinness and Hawkins is just as tightly regimented, with obvious bits of symbolism designed to make a case any sentient being has picked up on five minutes in. The Interrogator doodles a spider web during his questioning of the Cardinal. The Interrogator plays chess before we cut to the Cardinal walking across flagstones. "God give me cunning against your skill" and "You've defeated me" are actual lines in the movie. The movie doesn't end as one might expect; it avoids this trap with a finale that doesn't make any sense at all.

Apparently all this struck some people as controversial back in 1955, as "The Prisoner" was banned from a couple of major film festivals. If it was released today, it would be easier to understand the hostility, even if the role of faith in this film is muted to the point of insignificance.

Given the historical and personal background of this project, so close to the heart of Guinness who would convert to Catholicism a year after this movie, it is surprising to see Sir Alec playing the part so awfully. He's a serene statue through the first half, and then a shrieking shamble in the second, even beating his head with his fists.

The only plus in the film is Wilfred Lawson's crusty jailer, called "Waldo" in the subtitles though I think that's someone mishearing "Warden." He has a couple of nice speeches, including one when he remembers a boyhood cuckoo clock with a juicy chuckle. The bits we get of Lawson show director Peter Glenville had the good sense to give room to at least some of his actors. But the Warden's a minor figure in a film that doesn't do anything worthwhile with anyone else.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Try not to judge the Priesthood by the priest

9/10
Author: Miriam Croucher from United Kingdom
26 February 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

'The Prisoner,'is a film version of the play by the same title, and is widely based on the life of Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary. It addresses the topic of religious freedom and therefore, also authentic human rights.

Alec Guinness in the role of a Catholic cardinal and Jack Hawkins as his interrogator who represents an atheist, totalitarian state (i.e. a state under communism) are brilliant. The supporting actors are also excellent.

The film is tense; it addresses man's inhumanity to man (Jack Hawkins) and the frailty of the human spirit when it is subjected to physical, emotional and mental torture (Alec Guinness). It is the story of one man's battle to preserve his interior freedom and every man's battle with himself; and it shows how a good man's courage and even his frailty unwittingly change the lives of his interrogator, his jailer and a guard.

The film's one weakness was that the cardinal's appearance did not adequately reflect the horrific torture to which he was subjected: though tortured for months on end, he is always clean-shaven and there is no gradual deterioration to give credence to his utter physical and mental exhaustion.

That said, I loved the film and found it very moving, particularly the scene close to the end when the cardinal looks into the guard's eyes and humbly says 'Try not to judge the Priesthood by the priest.' (It is necessary to have watched the film to understand the poignancy of this remark which cleverly responds to a comment made earlier by the guard).

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

beauty of black-and-white

Author: oscar-35 from working in Movieland
24 September 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Spoiler/plot- 1955, The Prisoner, An outspoken Cardinal from Eastern European country is jailed for his rebellious beliefs and subject to relentless interrogation of a psychologist in prison. Hoping for a phony confession that would create chaos among the countries large Catholic population, the interrogator knows no amount of brutal torture will sway his prison subject that fought the Nazi Gestapo. But after months of hard mental torture, the interrogator finds a crack in his subject's facade when the interrogator challenges his religious ideals in a gripping prison scene. The film ending is quite a enjoyable twist.

*Special Stars- Sir Alec Guiness plays the lead, as The Cardinal. Jack Hawkins plays the interrogator.

*Theme- Totalitarian governments break-down the individual, while religion glorifies it.

*Based on- Eastern European world news headlines.

*Trivia/location/goofs- An English film shot a the Pinewood Studios. Such a controversial film that it was BANNED at Cannes & Venice Film festivals for it's political implications on Eastern BLOC countries. A memorable line is given by Guiness just before his Cardinal role is jailed, "Any confession coming from me in prison is a lie or completely due to the weakness of man". 'The Motion Picture Guide' rates this film highly and rates the performances by the two male leads as "...two best roles and performed at their very best."

*Emotion- A very excellent dramatic and tension filled film plot with meaty roles for these two giants of the British screen. While these two stars were in the same film, seldom have they shared scenes acting off each other like in this film. A true delight to enjoy watching these solid film stars in the beauty of black-and-white. The film's subject matter is thought provoking for spiritual and non-spiritual people alike.

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0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

More Appropriate for the TV screen

5/10
Author: malcolmgsw from london
17 December 2013

It is difficult to understand why the producers thought that this talky snail pace drama was more appropriate to the cinema than TV.Didn't cinemas already have enough problems without screening this hall clearing feature.In fact the only reason that I watched it was to see one of my favourite actors,Wilfred Lawson.there sure enough he was acting his socks off whilst Alec Guiness was doing his silent bit.He lights up every scene he appears in.He has this funny knack of starting each sentence on a high note and working his way down.As for the rest of the film,sorry to say it is a total bore.Jack Hawkins was always watchable but Alec Guiness I find a little of him goes a long way.Guiness is not necessarily good for you.

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