Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary is tried for treason by Soviet authorities after speaking out against the socialist takeover of his country. Story inspired by actual events. [ Guilty of Treason credits: Dir: Felix Feist/ Charles Bickford, Bonita Granville, Paul Kelly/ 86 min/ Drama, Biography/ Anti-Socialism, Government as Torturer]
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“The Left now denounces this film as anticommunist propaganda — of course, from a libertarian perspective that’s practically an endorsement.”
During the 1940s, Hungary had the misfortune to be located between two powerful enemies of freedom: Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Hungary’s Cardinal Mindszenty consistently denounced and defied both of these great powers.
During the German occupation of Hungary he openly preached against the Nazis and secretly hid Jews in his cellar, ultimately spending time in prison for his “crimes.” When the Soviets took over Hungary, he was equally courageous and preached against them as well. For these and other acts of defiance, he was again arrested. In prison he was beaten, denied sleep, and finally drugged until he made a “confession.” It is this forced confession and associated “trial” that is the focus of Guilty of Treason.
As the reporter (who leads the viewer through these dramatized events) says sharply to one of his Soviet adversaries: “I know the whole routine. I watched it in Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia. But up until now I always came in on the last act of the show. This time, for once in my life, I’m in on the beginning. I want to see how you do it, make the fix — I mean, the frame-up.” And by showing how they did it — the torture, threats, and calculated psychological manipulation — this film does a good job of discrediting such confessions.
It seems odd now, looking back, that anyone would have given credibility to confessions taken under conditions of obvious duress and intimidation, even without knowing about the torture and use of drugs. But many people must have taken these confessions seriously or presumably the Soviets wouldn’t have gone to such lengths to extract them.
Another favorable feature of this film is the repeated equation of Nazism and Soviet socialism, a point that libertarians have been making for years.
However, this generally fair telling of the Mindszenty story is compromised by a heavy-handed anti-“Red” tone typical of the period which, along with some occasionally stiff acting, will tarnish the message for some. In particular, the Left now denounces this film as anticommunist propaganda — of course, from a libertarian perspective that’s practically an endorsement.
Tone and polish aside, in its essentials this story of Mindszenty’s heroics is all true. And incidentally, his story did not end with the show trial depicted here. Less than a decade after Guilty of Treason was released, Hungarian freedom fighters liberated Mindszenty from prison. He remained a vocal thorn in the side of the Soviet Union for the rest of his life.