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THE PRISONER (1955)

The Prisoner - CoverArrow Academy’ have recently released a digitally remastered edition of the 95-minute British classic, ‘The Prisoner’. It was directed by Peter Glenville; and starred Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins. Plus, as a special bonus, it also comes with a visual essay narrated by the film historian, Neil Sinyard, along with select-scene commentary by the author and critic, Philip Kemp. Please enjoy.


The Prisoner [Arrow Academy]


THE STORY:
You’ve kept me incarcerated for quite a while now, my inquisitive friend (Jack Hawkins), and during that time, you’ve starved my brain, you’ve tarnished my reputation, and you’ve bombarded me with question after question after question, all because you want me to confess to a crime that I didn’t commit.

But I haven’t though, have I? I haven’t confessed to anything at all! Not even when you presented me with falsified evidence and threatened to kill my own mother. So, what else have you got, eh? What else are you willing to throw at a man like me? A man of the cloth, (Alec Guinness)! After all, I’ve fought against tyranny for many, many years, until I finally saw the light and worked my way up to the post of Cardinal.

But then again, that’s most probably why what next transpires goes gaga, goo-goo, when I slowly start turning into a right nut. As a jail-cell evolves into a very dark place - a court-case becomes a righteous disgrace - an inquisitor can’t look himself in the face - and at the end of the day, praise the Lord, a holy man vanishes without a trace.




THE REVIEW:
Now I know this may sound like a rather strange thing to say, but in many ways, this film kind of reminds me of an avant-garde illustration because it slowly sketches an intimate portrait that’s vague in places, abstract in others, yet indirectly gives off a fairly straightforward message. That being, don’t buy into the myth of communism or socialism, otherwise, you won’t be able to think or do anything for yourselves.

The Prisoner - Film Poster
Well, let’s face it; some people just don't like the idea of being controlled by the government, while others, yearn for a day when everyone can be on the same playing field and given the same opportunities in life. So, what do they do about it? What steps do they take to appease their own political ideology? Freedom or control? Capitalism or socialism? Or does everyone just bury their heads in the sand and hope for the best? 

Now, as luck would have it, ‘The Prisoner’ attempts to answer this question by debasing one of these ideologies (communism) via a smartly staged scenario between two opposing men. One of them is a villainous inquisitor, as played magnificently by Jack Hawkins, while the other aligns himself to the side of the angels! Quite literally, in this case, due to the fact that he’s a Cardinal from the Catholic Church, played to a tea by the one and only, Alec Guinness! 

Although, to be fair, Alec's Cardinal isn't a complete saint, due to certain issues he has with his Mother; whereas Jack’s inquisitor isn’t an out and out villain, but rather, a misguided patsy who is ordered to do his masters bidding for the sake of preserving their mutual cause. A cause, I hasten to add, which is more than willing to pervert the media, threaten the innocent, and destroy those people who might possibly pose a threat. Such as Alec’s religious figure, for instance, who’s been able to create a popular platform for himself which isn’t appreciated by the current regime!

Please note, though, that hardly anyone’s name is ever mentioned throughout the course of this movie. Not the name of Jack’s character. Not the name of Alec’s character. And not the names belonging to some of the supporting characters either. Come to think of it, no actual crime was ever assigned to Alec in order to justify his reason for being in jail, apart from some unsubstantiated evidence planted by the state! Strange that -- I know -- and kind of gives this film an aloof edge that might not be to everybody's taste. After all, sometimes details matter, and even though I eventually got used to this over time, I’m not entirely sure that others will think the same as me.


The Prisoner - Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins


The Prisoner - Foriegn Film Poster
Anyway, that’s enough of that for the time being, as I think that now would be a pretty good time for us to sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) ‘Columbia Pictures’ first released this production in London, England, on the exact same day Zhumabek Tashenov replaced Nurtas Undasynov as The Chairman of the 'Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic'. It was on the 19th of April, 1955. (2) This movie was based on a stage play written by Bridget Boland, directed by Peter Glenville, and starring some of the same actors who'd reprise their roles for the film version, namely, Alec Guinness and Wilfrid Lawson. (3) Loosely translated, this project was entitled ‘Trapped’ in France; ‘Captive’ in Sweden; and ‘The Martyrdom of an Abbot’ in Greece. (4) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states, ‘Which One is the Prisoner?’. (5) The majority of this movie was shot inside ‘Pinewood Studios’, located at Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, England, although it has been said that most of the external scenes were shot somewhere in Belgium. (6) According to certain sources, Alec Guinness took on the role of the Cardinal because he also disliked his mother and could empathize with someone who came from a broken home. (7) Upon its release, this drama was banned in Ireland for being ‘anti-Catholic and ‘pro-Communist’, despite being banned from the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals for being ‘anti-Communist’. (8) After this film took a bow, Alec Guinness starred in the TV-movie, ‘Baker's Dozen’; Jack Hawkins starred in the historical drama, ‘Land of the Pharaohs’; and Wilfrid Lawson starred in the comedy, ‘Make Me an Offer’.


The Prisoner - Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins


In closing my review, I would just like to talk a little bit more about some of the actors who performed in ‘The Prisoner’. Most notably, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, and Wilfrid Lawson: Three men that managed to delve deep, deep, deep, within their own souls, only to pull out sentiments, behaviors, and mannerisms which dramatically aided this political parable both in tone and style. Alec did this by gradually running through a gamut of emotions that ranged from earnest, to vulnerable, to crazy; while Jack, on the other hand, was able to show us the two distinct sides of his character’s personality, both amenable and corrupt; and as for Wilfrid, well, he played a jailer, a very avuncular jailer, who is caring and cruel in fairly even doses. 

That said, however, some of the other actors who featured in this film didn’t really have much to work with in regards to developing a fully formed performance. For instance, one part of the plot focused on two lovers who hardly did anything apart from talking and moaning about their current situation. So much so, in fact, that their story never led anywhere and felt redundant compared to the rest of the picture.

Yet, that slight gripe aside, overall this film wasn’t a bad film, and I would recommend it for those of you who can stand a story that mixes together politics versus religion, control versus faith, and Guinness versus Hawkins. Trust me, folks, the last of these three really stole the show, big time, and they did a pretty decent job of unraveling a vague yet complex message in a classy way.

THE RATING: B-

THE PRISONER (1955) THE PRISONER (1955) Reviewed by David Lee Andrews on March 11, 2019 Rating: 5

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