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This is a somewhat theatrical but very moving story, based on a play by Lillian Hellman. The action takes place in Venezuela during the early 19th century wars of independence. Five innocent people are being held by the Spanish army which is in pursuit of Simón Bolivar and his revolutionary force. These five have been given just one hour to provide the Spanish with the information that army needs to capture Bolivar, or each of the six will be executed. The tension builds as we wait for their decision; to see whether they will be executed or reprieved. The way in which they deal with each other and come to grips with this situation is moving and realistic.
I saw Montserrat for the first time as a teenager and was haunted for
weeks by the story; indeed I have searched TV listings for it ever
since, to no avail. It may have been the first time in my young life
that I realized there were truly heartless people on this planet. I
believe the events portrayed are fictional; still, the severe testing
of one's convictions, the callous disregard for the lives and feelings
of others, the cowardice and courage in the face of death by young and
old alike, were themes played out in such convincing fashion that the
viewer can't help but come away introspective, moved.
I sincerely hope that PBS or someone will air this presentation again, with sufficient promotion to get the attention of the viewing public (and so that I don't somehow miss it).
I was delighted to find out that there are others who remember this
program. It remains one of the most moving dramas I have seen, on
television or anywhere else. One thing that does not appear in the cast
lists or the in any of the comments is the performance by Martin Sheen
as a Mexican artisan, a carver of "santos", the holy figures of saints
that are a part of the decoration of all Catholic churches.
Rip Torn's performance was stunning, too. As near as I can remember the cast, casting and direction were flawless. I, too, have often wondered why it never reappeared on the screen.
Hellman's original play is a wonderfully challenging script, challenging for the audience. It is one of the few dramas I have seen that made me really evaluate what I think is important enough that I would consider dying for.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this thirty four years ago on television, and it has never been
shown since. It was a play by Emanuel Robles that was translated and
rewritten by Lillian Hellman, and the cast, led by Keir Dullea as
Montserrat and Rip Torn as Izquierdo (the Spanish officer and
torturer). It is Venezuela (then part of the Spanish South American
Empire) in the 1820s. Simon Bolivar was leading the revolution, and
winning. Izquierdo is trying to find him, and knows that Montserrat is
a close associate of Bolivar, and can tell him where he is. So he
arrests Montserrat, and grabs five innocent civilians (including
Geraldine Page, Hurd Hatfield, Alexander Scourby, and Jack Albertson),
from a city square. Then he tells Montserrat that he will kill these
hostages one at a time, unless he gets the information from Montserrat.
If Montserrat cooperates he'll release them and let Montserrat live.
It becomes a battle of character between Montserrat and Izquierdo, who is battling memories of his own humiliation at the hands of Simon Bolivar's men in a recent campaign. The hostages try to force Montserrat to recognize the duty he supposedly owes to them, and he keeps arguing against this pressure. In the end we watch both men basically lose, as Montserrat maintains his honor, and Izquierdo realizes he has gained little - and is giving his services to forces he himself has little respect for.
I wish they would revive it. Like many of the televised dramas of early television history (1950 - 1975) it is possibly no longer in existence, which is a shame. But if it is maybe it can be shown again. It was a good play.
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