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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Captured (1959)

capturedFrom my forthcoming Video Dungeon book, here’s a brief review of the late John Krish’s extraordinary Captured – available on DVD/BluRay from the BFI’s Flipside label.

Captured (1959)

 

This tough army information film from writer-director John Krish (Unearthy Stranger) would be acknowledged as a British classic if it hadn’t been declared ‘restricted’ by the people who commissioned it and witheld from non-military audiences for decades.  Ex-POW Anthony Farrar-Hockley introduces, but the bulk of the film simply illustrates interrogation techniques servicemen could expect if captured in a Korean-type conflict by an enemy who don’t observe the Geneva Convention.  An old soldier (Wilfrid Brambell) who was in a German POW camp says he knows what to expect, only to be found later in a coffin-like box.  The Chinese experts who guided the North Koreans refused (or professed to refuse) to recognise enemy combatants as soldiers rather than criminals and classified them not as prisoners but pupils, to be educated in the virtues of communism.  This means medical care, provisions, letters from home, etc., could be withheld as part of brainwashing strategy.

The film’s two acts illustrate different methods.  First, a group of prisoners are nagged into turning on each other, ostracising one of their number as a collaborator to such an extent that he does passively co-operate … then, Daniels (Alan Dobie), an intelligence officer, is caught and subjected to tortures now hideously familiar from the war on terror (stress positions and water-boarding).  It has a stark, noirish look — making a miserable stretch of Britain into a believable North Korea — and edgy performances from a pro cast.  Made outside the conventional film industry, it’s more horrific than comparable efforts – Hammer’s The Camp on Blood Island came out the same year – and has tougher language (‘effing’ and ‘harpic’ are two terms you wouldn’t have heard in a feature film then).

There is, of course, an irony in making a propaganda film about resisting propaganda, though the grimness of Captured might have been a problem: it’s supposed to instruct troops not to cooperate with the enemy, but soldiers watching it must have felt anyone would crack under these circumstances and despaired.  It might have motivated them not to get captured, though.  A cast of familiar British character faces includes Ray Brooks, Gerald Flood, Brian Murray, Bernard Fox and Mark Eden.

 

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