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The Spanish Prisoner [Celluloid Hero]

The Spanish Prisoner (1997)

A few weeks ago during the Free Beer & Hot Wings show, they were discussing movies with twist endings; Hot Wings mentioned this one, so I was motivated to check it out. Writer/director David Mamet began his career as a playwright. He has made a bunch of movies that I enjoy, but admittedly he has a style that won’t appeal to everyone.

The beginning of the movie sent my brain spinning, things happen very quickly with little or no explanation. A timid worker, Joe, is sent to an island paradise to reveal the details of a “formula” that will make his bosses a vast amount of money. What exactly the formula is or does is never revealed, nor does it matter; it’s just the element that sets the story in motion.

Near the end of his trip, Joe meets Jimmy Dell, a rare dramatic role for Steve Martin. Jimmy is suave and slick, but also friendly and generous. Joe immediately develops a friendship with him, and they reunite when they return home.

Without giving away too much of the twist, I felt pleasantly surprised by it. Obviously I knew there was a twist, I knew it was a “con” movie. I was still able to enjoy things leading up to the reveal and the rest of the movie that followed, retroactively explaining things.

“The Spanish Prisoner” had a very Hitchcock-ian feel to it. Many Hitchcock movies focus on a person who is in a crazy situation, then dig themselves deeper with every attempt to clean up. The spiral continues down and down. In this case, everything spirals as well, even being self-referenced when a cop asks Joe “if you heard this story, would you believe it?”


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On the [Celluloid Hero] scale, “The Spanish Prisoner” gets 6 out of 10.

[Each week, Varacchi explores cinema from his own perspective. From indie to foreign to mainstream, he’ll watch it all. Suggestions and recommendations are welcome, leave a comment below. CLICK HERE for the Celluloid Hero archives]

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