Director: Arthur Penn.
Starring: Nigel Hawthorne (Colonel), Eric Stoltz (Marty), Louis Gossett Jr. (Questioner), Ian Roberts (Guard Moolman), Louis van Niekerk (P. Martin Strydom Snr.), Janine Eser (Christie Malcolm), Jerry Mofokeng (Mzwaki), Patrick Shai (Bhambo), Ross Preller (Guard Potgieter), Joshua Lindberg (Guard Koos), Desmond Dube (Scabenga), Duma Tsepane (1st Prisoner), Gary Coppin (Big Policeman), Themba Ndaba (Bakwana / Prisoner (voice)), Mandy Gulwa (Mzwaki's Wife), Seldom Ngwenia (Guard 1996), Sizwe Nyembe (12 Year Old Prisoner).
a South Afrikaan political prisoner is tortured, but 10 years later his torturer is put in prison and questioned about his own past offenses
This is a very talky movie. It's more of a play than a movie. Marty is a white professor of political science. He came from a privileged background and as such is incredibly naive and gullible. As a political science professor, he is not very good because he doesn't seem to realize just how brutal oppressive regimes are. Marty gets beaten when he comes into prison for transporting firearms for the rebels. When the interrogator, the Colonel, sees him, Marty is filled with righteous indignation. How dare they torture him? This is his attitude. What did he expect them to do, when he refuses to cooperate with the authorities. After all he comes from a good, white family and torture should not be used on him or others.
Marty's continued resistance really gets under the Colonel's skin and is often screaming at the professor. The Colonel, at times, becomes somewhat like a decent person concerned for Marty's situation. He offers to send Marty's letters to his wife. And he gives Marty his wife's letter to him. He even goes farther with Marty's dad. Marty is told that his dad will not accept his letters. So the Colonel called his father, but his father just keeps saying that the prison has the wrong Marty and the wrong address.
The black prisoners are treated much worse than Marty is. Some are beaten to a pulp and die. Others are seriously maimed by the beatings. Still others will be hanged.
A beaten black man is placed in the solitary confinement cell diagonally across the hall from Marty. The man tells his sad story to Marty and then says that they are going to hang him the next day. Some of the other prisoners shout out to Marty not to talk with the man because he's a police informer. The neighbor asks Marty what's he in for? Did he kill anyone? Marty says no, but he did transport weapons for the rebels. Soon after Marty gives up what he did, the neighbor is let out of his cell and slaps hands with a guard. So now the police have a recorded confession by Marty.
The Colonel gives a letter from Marty's wife to Marty. The letter is so nasty and mean that Marty is virtually destroyed.
The Colonel tells Marty that his father has a bad heart and it's a shame that Marty put his father through such a horrible nightmare when he worked for the rebels. His father is in pain because of Marty.
Marty talks with a new man across the hall from him. This man tries to help Marty by telling him to dismiss the things that his wife and father said about him. They are not worth Marty's concern. Be strong! But some people aren't strong, and Marty is one of these people. Marty can't just dismiss his wife and father. He loves his family deeply. So the helper may be well-meaning, but he only makes things worse for Marty.
Marty gets a bad beating from a guard because when the guard sprayed a noxious liquid through Marty's eye hole, Marty blocked it with his hand and part of the spray went into the eyes of the guard. After wiping his eyes, the guard opens Marty's cell door and really beats Marty with his baton. So not only is Marty deeply depressed, he's bloody too. The Colonel comes in and throws a suit of clothes to Marty telling him to clean himself up and put on those clean clothes, because he's going to visit with his father.
Marty is not in good shape to carry out the Colonel's orders, so his progress is very slow. The Colonel comes back in to check on Marty. He tells Marty that he doesn't have to complete his dressing because Marty's father has died of a heart attack. The situation was too hard on the older man. The Colonel leaves the cell. The man across the way calls out to Marty. He shouts at Marty to answer him, but Marty stays quiet. Marty is studying the three ties that the Colonel had given him with the other clothes. The black fellow starts worrying about Marty. He tells the other inmates to shut up so he can get through to Marty. Marty still says nothing. Now the concerned inmate becomes afraid for Marty. He starts screaming out for help from the guards. It takes awhile before a guard arrives. The concerned inmate tells the guard to go to the cell diagonally across from his cell. The guard opens up the door and sees Marty hanging up in the cell. The guard starts to rush to help Marty, who is still alive, but the Colonel arrives and stops the guard from going in. The guard doesn't want to watch the hanging, so he leaves,.
Marty is trying to save himself by getting a footing on the steel table. The Colonel enjoys watching Marty fail. The Colonel just watches as Marty strangles to death.
After the defeat of apartheid in South Africa, a man is appointed to investigate the use of torture and death in the prisons of apartheid-era South Africa. The Colonel is a top target for the investigator. He spends many hours talking with the Colonel. The man is very confident and almost arrogant because he thinks the black investigator has nothing on him that will stick. The questioner often gets frustrated with the Colonel and his attitudes.
After the investigator gets as much as he can from the Colonel, he tells the policeman that he is being charged with a crime. The Colonel scoffs at the very idea. The investigator says that the Colonel will be charged with the murder of Marty. The Colonel still says the investigator has nothing on him. Now the investigator tells the Colonel that there was an eye witness to the murder. The questioner now says it was he himself that was in the cell diagonally across from Marty. Through his eye hole, which is pretty large, he saw what happened, and he knows that the Colonel deliberately created a scenario in which Marty would want to kill himself. The Colonel wrote the letters from Marty's wife mimicking her writing style. He also made up the story of Marty's father having a bad heart and that he died of a heart attack because of Marty. The investigator says that Marty's father kept coming to the prison to see his son, but the Colonel kept rejecting the father. Furthermore, the Colonel deliberately gave Marty three suit ties so Marty could hang himself with them. He conveniently left Marty alone in his cell. Then, of course, the Colonel stopped the guard from saving Marty's life.
The Colonel is shaken by how much the investigator knows about him and what actually happened, but he acts confident and demands to see his lawyer. So the investigator calls for the lawyer. The lawyer is in a nice suit and looks very distinguished with his partly white beard. The Colonel immediately starts saying that the government has nothing on him -- nothing! The lawyer now informs the Colonel that he's is not lawyer at all. He's the father of Marty and he just wanted to see what kind of man can be so wicked to mastermind the death of a young man -- his son. The Colonel's attitude is so maddening that the father attacks the Colonel. They fight a little, but the tall father beats the man down and knocks him out.
The investigator now arrives and pulls the father off the Colonel.
Spoiler warning: I did not want to have to go through writing down so much dialogue from this movie-play. It's a pretty good film. My wife and I were suspicious of the Colonel almost from the very start. He gave information about Marty's wife and mother to Marty, but the news was always extremely bad. Marty was gullible enough to believe the policeman. Hell, even in democracies the police can lie to you and they rarely have the best of intentions for the suspect or the prisoner. That's why you should always get a lawyer, but in terrorism cases in South Africa the lawyer's only came into the process when it was already time for going to court.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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