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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Interesting play by Bridget Boland loosely based on the notorious fake trial of Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary after a month of brainwashing by the communists in 1948. Alec Guinness was himself a catholic and is really living out his catholicism in this great performance of the live dissection of a catholic priest, extremely actual in today's situation with the church immersed in scandals of pedophilia. Bridget Boland makes a very different story from the Mindszenty drama, making the interrogator (Jack Hawkins) an equal to the Cardinal as opponent and prosecutor and seems to be winning but actually loses in the end against the honesty of the Cardinal realizing his own futility, while the prosecutor- interrogator as a victor is the real loser and takes the consequences. Fascinating drama, which should be returned to again and again. In reality, Cardinal Mindszenty's brainwash process only lasted for less than a month and was chiefly conducted by the use of drugs and physical exhaustion. The only parallel torture that Alec Guinness is exposed to is forced insomnia. He is imprisoned for longer than three months with only private talks with the interrogator as a method and finally released, when the "state" thinks it has won by ruining his reputation and exposing him as a fraud, while Cardinal Mindszenty was sentenced for life. The film was made in 1955, the year after saw the Hungarian revolt, and Cardinal Mindszenty was then set free and lived a long life, even writing books and his memoirs. He is still one of the most important icons of Hungary and will remain so. His shrine is at the ancient basilica of Esztergom north of Budapest, a very beautiful place by the Danube.
because it is a great artistic duel between Alec Guiness and Jack Hawkins, remembering, in few scenes, "Beckett". because the performance of Wilfrid Lawson is really seductive. because it use as symbol, maybe, the example of Jozsef Mindszenty, Archibishop of Esztergom, but, in same measure , it is an inspired story about the conflict between the State and the Church under Communism. it represents one of of films with a precise target. almost a refuge. because it is slow, uncomfortable, simple and far to give answers. one of films who must see it. because it is a large window to the essential things defining each of us.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
****SPOILERS*** Brought up on charges of treason against the state the
Cardinal, Alec Guinness, of an Eastern European communist nation is put
through the ringer by his Interrogator, Jack Hawkins, in order to get
him to confess to his so-called crimes. The Cardinal who's an old hand
at being tortured by the German Gestapo during WWII takes it all in
stride not caring what is done to his body but when the Interrogator
starts to work on his mind and his life as a young boy in the city fish
market he strikes a raw nerve with the Cardinal.
The Cardinal has done some bad things, like sticking his hand in the cookie jar, in the past before he became religious and it's his former comrade in arms, against the Nazis, in WWII, the Interrogator who brings those events out into the open. It takes some three months for the Interrogator to get the Cardinal to crack with days of sleep deprivation and weeks of isolation but in the end the Cardinal finally gives in to all of his demands.
***SPOILERS*** At his trial the Cardinal confesses to everything, even the Lincoln and Julius Cesar assassinations, under the sun in an open court with those in attendance, mostly the Cardinal's supporters, open mouthed and shocked by his many false and mindless confessions. It didn't take long for the smug with victory Interrogator to realize that all his efforts in getting the Cardinal to confess backfired in his face! The vary fact that the Cardinal so eagerly confessed to all if not even more of the crimes that he was accused of by the state showed the people that he was just playing along with his captors and in fact showing them up for the brutish thugs whom they are. With his conviction thrown out and confessions shown to be total lies and BS it's the Cardinal who in fact got the last laugh not the Interrogator and his superiors. And with that the Cardinal walks out free as a bird or cardinal from prison to the cheers of all the people who were tried to be made out, by the Interrogator, that he betrayed!
*** 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.
*** 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
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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