Gulag (1985)

 

 

 

Director:     Roger Young. 

Starring:     David Keith (Mickey Almon), Malcolm McDowell (The Englishman), David Suchet (Matvei),  Warren Clarke (Hooker), John McEnery (Diczek), Nancy Paul (Susan Almon), Brian Pettifer (Vlasov), George Pravda (Bukovsky), Shane Rimmer (Jay), Bruce Boa (McHenry), Eugene Lipinski (Yuri), Ray Jewers (T.V. Interviewer), Bogdan Kominowski (Stolypin Guard), Barrie Houghton (Wisinski), Alexei Jawdokimov (Vikstrom).

Made for TV movie.

a reporter is framed by the KBG and has to spend time in the gulag penal system

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Mickey Almon, a sports journalist, is having a high old time in a Russian bar.  He tells a friend that he is a runner and he runs around and around a section of the tavern.  The other fellow tries to keep up with Mickey, but he simply can't.  Mickey then decides to run outside. Some of his colleagues run with him, but Mickey is evidently going to run a long distance and the others drop out.  So Mickey runs alone.  At night a car comes up behind him.  Mickey doesn't stop, he just runs faster.  The men in the car continue to chase him.  They chase him until they catch him.  They finally catch him as he runs into a dead end. 

Mickey shouts at them to come on and fight then.  A woman gets out of the car and tells him: "Come with us comrade."  She pulls off her big hat and reveals herself as Mickey' wife, Susan Almon.  At their hotel the driver has a problem with the car's engine and Mickey stays to help him.  As they look into the engine the driver tells Mickey that he is a scientist and he asks Mickey to help him get a story out to the western media.  He asks Mickey:  "Are you interested?"

Mickey tells his colleagues about what happened.  The colleagues are worried that Mickey might get them all thrown out of Russia.  They tell Mickey to stay away from the scientist.  His wife tells Mickey that there's no way that if Mickey were caught that the whole network wouldn't be involved in the scandal.  She tells him just to be really sure of why he wants to do this. 

Mickey walks with the scientist and asks him what could the KGB do to him if they catch him?  The scientist tells Mickey that they wouldn't do anything to him, because he is an American.  As soon as Mickey takes the story from the scientist two KGB cars pull up.  The scientist is placed in one car, Mickey in the other.  It looks like Mickey has been set up. 

April 4.  Mickey is put into a prisoner's uniform complete with slippers.  He is then taken to the office of some intelligence officer.  The man says he is Bukovsky and he has a paper he wants Mickey to sign.  He says Mickey will be able to go soon, but then, why is Mickey in a prison uniform?  Mickey reads the paper and objects that this is a confession that he is an agent for the CIA involved in espionage against the Soviet Union.  Bukovsky brings some scalding hot tea over to Mickey but then, probably deliberately, spills it on him. 

Bukovsky asks if he can level with Mickey?  Yes.  He says:  "You will be convicted as a spy no matter what, whether you sign or no."  Mickey is sensing that he has been set up by the KGB to be an example for all the western journalists, not to take negatives stories about the Soviet Union out to be shared by the whole western world.  Bukovsky tells him that if he will sign the paper, he will be deported to the USA.  If he does not sign, he will be convicted as a spy and sent to prison.  "So I believe it is better for you to sign."   

Mickey says he has to have some time to think.  He wants to talk with someone from the embassy or his network.  Fine, says Bukovsky, but meanwhile he will be held in a room where he may think things over.  He is taken to a cell and thrown into it.  The floor is covered with water and black mud. 

May 2, 1954.  Mickey is brought back before Bukovsky, who asks him if he will sign?  No.  So, Mickey is taken back to his cell.

Mickey comes before Bukovsky and still refuses to sign the confession.  He tells Bukovsky that they cannot do anything to him without him signing the document, so Bukovsky can go "fuck himself".  Back to his cell he goes. 

June 2.  Back before Bukovsky again.  They let Mickey see himself in a large mirror.  He is shocked at how bad he looks.  Bukovsky gets a nasty reply to his request for Mickey to sign.  He then tells Mickey that he is a very strong man and maybe the punishments have just served to make him stronger.  But for now, he will be taken to the baths and will clean himself up for his meeting with his wife. 

Mickey showers, bathes and then shaves.  They give him his clothes to wear.  When he is all ready to go see his wife, a guard comes in and tells him to put on his filthy uniform.  To say the least, Mickey is shaken by the experience. 

Now Mickey gives a verbal confession that he is a CIA agent sent to seek out a Russian scientist and blackmail him into betraying his country.  Bukovsky is happy about Mickey's performance.  He tells Mickey that he will be let go in 15 minutes.  Mickey is released.  But he is put on a train (probably headed to Siberia).  He is thrown into a crowded train car filled with men.  They laugh at him and pester him as he yells for the guards to let him out.  Now Mickey is very quiet, as are the other men.  A Jewish fellow who speaks English, named Matvei, tells Mickey that Mickey has received a sentence of 10 years for espionage. 

The fellow who speaks English tells Mickey that he is not to eat the fish.  The fish are salty.  If the guards give him water to off-set the saltiness of the fish, they won't let him go to the restroom and he will have to piss his pants.  If they don't give him water, he will be racked with the pains of thirst.   Mickey disregards the advice and eats the bread and the fish.   He gets plenty of water and so now he wants to urinate. The guards refuse to let him use the restroom on the train.  Mickey starts yelling at the guards, but Matvei tells Mickey that just makes the guards worse.  Instead, he has the men grab the bunk beds and start pulling and the pushing on them.  The idea is to threaten to rock the train car off the tracks.  The guards relent and let Mickey use the restroom. 

Matvei and his professor wife worked for academic freedom and were punished.  A lot of the prisoners on the train are Jewish, but there are Christians also.  He says the big man over there is a Cossack who doesn't want any part of the Soviet Union.  He adds that the kind of men he has to watch out for are the common criminals.  Mickey asks what's it like in the camps?  It's cold with lots of hard work.  The Cossack and Matvei tell Mickey they are making friends with him because he is an American and he will receive many packages from home.  He can then smuggle some of his goods to them, who will be in a separate section for the Russians, while Mickey will be in the camp for foreigners. 

Susan Almon talks to her mother on the phone. She says her husband is coming home tomorrow. He will receive a hero's welcome. She hangs up and the takes a shower (brief nudity). In the shower she is grabbed by two Russian guards. Susan screams. Mickey bolts upright from his sleeping position. Matvei assures Mickey it was only a dream.

Russian guards take the photo of Matvei's wife and rip it up.  He tries to stop them, but it hit with a rifle butt. 

One of the guards sees a coin on the train car floor near the door.  He opens the door and puts his hand in to get the coin.  The Cossack stomps on the man's hand and then the big man thrusts thick wire netting  taken from one of the train car windows and thrusts it downwards onto the guard's hand and grinds it into the hand.  The hand is very bloody and really hurts the guard.  But when the other guard opens the door to shoot someone, everyone pretends they are fast asleep and the guard doesn't know who he should shoot. 

June 15.  The trains arrive at their destination.  The Cossack and Matvei tell Mickey to watch those guards.  They cannot shoot a prisoner arbitrarily so they use other methods.  They grab something the prisoner really treasures and throw it far off near the perimeter of the compound.  When the prisoner goes to retrieve it, they shoot the prisoner and say he was trying to escape.  They also use some prisoners to kill other prisoners. 

The men strip out of their clothes and are given uniforms to wear.  The barracks looks a bit like the barracks of the German concentration camps.  There are lots of bunks up to the ceiling on both sides of the room and an open area in the middle.  The two camps, foreigners and Russians, are right across from each other, separated only by fences and an alley way between them used by the guards to go back and forth.  He says the happiest times are when the men receive packages from home.  He says cigarettes are used like money in the camps. 

Early in the morning a bell is rung and the men file out and get into formation.  Then they are are told to sit so a hand count can be made of the prisoners.  Mickey says that there are prisoners from every virtually country in the world.  The one guy that Mickey really doesn't like is the Englishman.  The men work with sewing machines at stitching gloves.  Mickey sees the Englishman grab the things of an ill man and take them for himself.  Mickey grabs the Englishman, but the thief says if he doesn't grab the stuff, someone else will. 

A big explosion occurs and the guards start shooting into the Russian section.  The foreign section starts a protest, but the guards fire warning shots in their direction and the prisoners go back into their barracks.  Mickey learns that there are thousands of these camps, so there is no where to escape to.  Some of the Russian prisoners are hung upside down along the walls, so the foreign prisoners can see them. 

The Englishman rats on Mickey, telling one of the guards that Mickey doesn't do a complete job sewing the gloves together.  Mickey gets furious about this and threatens to hit the Englishman.  Two guards come over and take Mickey outside.  When Mickey gets back to the barracks he grabs Mickey and threatens to hit him, but he doesn't.  The Englishman says that he is trying to help Mickey survive in this place.  He is setting him straight on how to work the system.  He says that with time Mickey will be just like him.  Mickey scoffs at this, telling the Englishman that he just simply gave up and now only cares about himself.

The guards now stop giving Mickey his packages from home.  That's a big blow to his morale.  In the barracks the men put on a show for an audience.   They try to get Mickey to sing one song for them, but he just walks out of the barracks. 

Late at night Mickey asks Diczek how he did that magic trick where three cards placed into a box are made to disappear from the box and then the three cards are retrieved from the box.  Diczek says a magician never tells the secrets of his art, but Mickey tells him he's serious and wants to know how the trick was done.  The magician tells Mickey that he must live from one moment to another in here.  He can't live in the past and he can't live in the future.  It's one day at a time.  Mickey still wants the secret, so Diczek just gives him the magic box. 

The Englishman starts talking to Mickey like a friend.  Mickey is upset and asks the man what does he want from him?  The Englishman says he wants to go with Mickey on his escape attempt.  Mickey gets up and walks over to the latrine ditches and jumps in.  The Englishman comes over to help Mickey out of the ditch, but Mickey pulls the Englishman into the ditch.  The Englishman realizes that Mickey is up to something and he goes along with him.  The two men then get out of the latrine and run around the barracks. 

January 5, 1955.  The Englishman and Mickey get 6 months in the Russian zone.  The men in the foreign zone beat on the wall in respect for their fellow prisoners.

Hooker the Cossack comes over and saves the two newcomers from falling into the hands of some bad prisoners.  Mickey tells Hooker that they deliberately got sent over to the Russian zone.  There are some things they need to talk about.  Hooker is disgusted with Mickey for blowing his good fortune to be in the foreign sector, but Mickey insists that he can escape using the trains.  He shows Hooker and Matvei the trick with the box.  The guys don't know how it was done, but Mickey shows them the false wall in the box.  They can hide behind a false wall and get away.  Matvei says that the Russians count the men in groups of five and if anyone is missing they stop everything and keep looking until the missing men are found. 

While chopping down trees, Matvei tells Mickey not to take it so hard.  He says it's better to stay and live rather than go and die.  And why die?  Mickey replies:  "Why not?"  Vlasov from the train tells Mickey that he will go with them.  They will make a diversion and they will go together. 

The Russian guard whose hand was badly bloodied on the train shows up.  He recognizes Matvei and the common criminal Vlasov.  Matvei, Vlasov and Mickey walk over to the guard.  Vlasov smiles and makes a movement with his hands of grinding the netting into his hand.  The guard has other guards hold Vlasov down and he shoots Vlasov in the palm of both of his hands.   Then the guards holds the man up and the guard ,out for revenge, shoots him in both thighs.  Hooker kills Vlasov with a blow from his axe and the guards start shooting the prisoners randomly.  A helicopter is then called in and a guard shoots an automatic weapon at the men trying to flee from the massacre. 

Matvei and Hooker get an extra 15 years in prison.  Now Hooker wants to try to escape. 

February 6.  A train arrives and the doors are opened.  Hooker and Mickey jump up on one of the box cars and start off-loading the cement and mortar.  When no one is looking, Mickey crawls over the bags of cement to one of the side walls and removes one of the horizontal boards.  Matvei takes one of the boards out and puts it aside and buries it under the snow. 

February 16.  The men are still working at unloading the box car.  But now the men are using the boards taken from the trains to carry more bags on them rather than on their shoulders.  Mickey works inside one of the box cars making a false wall.  Matvei says he will be the diversion .  He will let the wild fox captured by Hooker go when the time is right.    

March 10.  The men are still working on the unloading process, but the guys are getting ready to hide.  They lift up the false wall from the floor of the box cart.  A guard checks the box car and closes the door on the escapees.  To mess up the count,  Matvei lets the fox go.  The fox is hemmed in by all the men around it.  And it runs around trying to find an opening.  A Russian guard shoots the fox dead.  But the count has been messed up. 

The guys jump off the train and land in the snow.  They are thrilled to be free and hug each other. 

Soldiers are sent out in search of the three missing prisoners.  The guys hide under the snow so the helicopter doesn't see them.  They make face masks for themselves to protect their faces.  And they walk and they walk.  Hooker falls and breaks his leg.  A bone protrudes out of his skin.  So the guys put him on a blanket and pull him along.  This really slows them down.  Hooker dies.  The men cut up his body for the flesh and then start walking again. 

The guys run into a sign posted on a fence.  As they start walking over to the sign, a snow vehicle with two armed men in it come toward the two men.  The men tells the guys that they are on Norwegian soil.  Beyond the fence is Russia.  The Norwegians asks the men their names:  Kenneth Barrington and Mickey Almon.  

April 5.  Oslo Station.  The press is there to interview Barrington and Almon.  Also there is Mickey's wife.  Mickey bolts through the reporters and grabs his wife and swings her around.  He then grabs hold of Barrington and the three of them start walking toward the station itself. 

"Among the reported five million prisoners currently held within the Gulag system, it is estimated that at least ten thousand are in prison solely for their their political or religious beliefs.  Political imprisonment is shrouded in secrecy, but it is certain that there are as many as one million political prisoners around the world today."   

 

 

Mickey Almon is framed by the KGB for a non-existent crime.  Dictatorships usually act this way.  They have a lot to hide and do a great deal to silence anyone wanting to point out the weaknesses and/or crimes of the dictatorship.  Many innocent people have been thrown into jail because of their beliefs and these people are called "political prisoners".  It is a bit frightening to see that statistic of there being one million political prisoners in the world.  It's a statistic that certain does not flatter human societies and governments. 

I usually don't care for the acting of David Keith, but I though he did a pretty good job in this film.  He's pretty good at acting like a very innocent, naive man who is transformed into an angry man.  Malcolm McDowell as the spoiled Englishman did a good job, but he didn't have much of a part in his film.  Also good was David Suchet (as the Jewish Matvei) and George Pravda (as the Russian KGB official Bukovsky).  A big part of the film dealt with the escape plan and that part was good. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

 

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