April 22, 2019  (Web Review)

The Prisoner

Arrow, 95 min., not rated, Blu-ray: $39.99

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

Alec Guinness stars as a beloved Catholic Cardinal in an unnamed Eastern European country who is arrested by the Communist government on charges of treason in this political drama based on the 1954 play by Bridget Boland. Jack Hawkins costars as the Interrogator, once a friend and ally in the Resistance in World War II, and now ordered to secure a confession by any means necessary. Knowing that the Cardinal survived Nazi tortures, Hawkins embarks on a months-long campaign to break the former’s mind and spirit with sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, and mind games between the long interrogation sessions. Set in the early 1950s, after the end of World War II and the creation of the Iron Curtain, the film draws on the real-life show trials of Catholic cardinals in Yugoslavia and Hungary to create a 1984-like tale for the then-contemporary world. The final act isn’t entirely convincing but it is still more interesting than the film’s political commentary or psychological mind games, or the theatrical direction by Peter Glenville. More importantly, The Prisoner serves as a master class in acting with Guinness as the calm, assured Cardinal who is sustained by his faith and Hawkins as the one-time doctor turned devoted Communist official who begins to lose his own faith as he breaks his subject. The film was controversial in its day, banned in Ireland for being pro-Communist and shut out of both the Cannes and Venice film festivals for being anti-Communist. Bowing on Blu-ray, extras include select scene commentary by author and critic Philip Kemp, and a video appreciation by author and scholar Neil Sinyard. A strong optional purchase. (S. Axmaker)