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The Prisoner Reviews

Try as she might, author Boland couldn't convince anyone that she hadn't gotten her inspiration for her play and screenplay from the real-life saga of Hungarian Cardinal Mindszenty, a real hero. In 1944, Mindszenty (then still a bishop) was jailed by the Nazis for not allowing his Catholic parishioners to say a mass and sing a Nazi-ordered Te Deum in honor of the liberation of Budapest from the Jews. He remained incarcerated until Hungary was liberated by the Allies. Then, in 1948, he rebelled against the Russian domination and was tossed into solitary confinement--an action that helped spur the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Eventually, Mindszenty was granted asylum in the US embassy, where he occupied the top floor for the next 15 years, supported by donations from the US, an exile in his own land. In an unnamed East European country, cardinal Guinness is arrested and put under interrogation by psychologist Hawkins, now a member of the hierarchy of the police state, although an old friend of Guinness. The two men had worked together against the Nazis, and Hawkins knows that no amount of physical torture will force the necessary "phony" confession from Guinness. Months pass and Hawkins keeps looking for the crack in Guinness' facade. Eventually, he finds it when he figures out that Guinness did not join the church because of a calling from God but because Guinness was attempting to escape his tawdry earlier life. Once Hawkins convinces Guinness that his career in the church is based on a false premise, Guinness begins to crack. A trial follows, and Guinness, now almost blank-faced, admits to all of the crimes he is alleged to have committed. The sentence is death, but an even graver punishment is carried out when Guinness' sentence is commuted and he is freed to walk among his fellow countrymen, a broken man. Response to this controversial picture varied from country to country. Some in Ireland called it "procommunist," while in France, where THE PRISONER was prohibited from being shown at Cannes, the film was labeled "anticommunist." Branded as "anti-Catholic" in Italy, the film was also barred from the Venice Film Festival. Any movie that occasions that kind of stir is worth seeing. THE PRISONER is basically a photographed stage play, and although there are a few other actors, Hawkins and Guinness are center stage most of the time--their mano a mano a delight to watch. Director Glenville had to use all of his expertise to keep the film from being little more than talking heads, but his touch is sure.