review for Prisoner of War on AllMovie

Prisoner of War (1954)
by Bruce Eder review

MGM's effort at addressing the situation of American prisoners-of-war during the Korean War is well-meaning, but hopelessly ham-fisted and cliche-ridden. Then again, from the looks of it, this movie didn't have a lot of ambition going in, in terms of subtlety or complexity, and was probably precisely what the makers from the producer on down wanted and expected. This is evident in the casting of a somewhat long-of-tooth Ronald Reagan (using his nice-guy/ordinary Joe appeal -- that same attribute he used to promote General Electric and sell 20 Mule Team Borax and his presidency -- to the hilt) as an intelligence officer who infiltrates a Communist POW camp to investigate reports of brain-washing; and with the presence of Andrew Marton, a B-picture specialist and second-unit expert, as director -- given that Marton's strongest talent as a director seemed to lay in moving actors around in front of a camera, or moving cameras to places that primary directors didn't have the time to worry about, he would have been unlikely choice to helm a film in which much acting finesse was required or expected. Equally dubious is the hackneyed script, which telegraphs its every move long minutes (and even an hour) ahead of any significant action, and the flat handling doesn't help raise interest. Some of the actors try hard, with Dewey Martin and, especially, Steve Forrest, attempting to flex some acting muscles, Martin despite his severely limited range as a performer. Forrest is actually very good in these surroundings, in what seems for most of the picture like a one-note role, as the most openly defiant of the American prisoners, who is seemingly broken by one calculated act of cruelty (which is no surprise when it comes, in this script) -- the one part of the script that does work, however, is his transformation by that action, but the depicted consequences are too mild for these surroundings and this setting. But the other cast members, especially Oscar Homolka as the main Soviet "advisor" to the warders, and John Lupton in a brief appearances as an American pilot being tortured, are mostly in a hopeless struggle with their lines and the script. The best work in the picture is done by Paul Stewart as a doctor/prisoner, who also has the best lines, and, alas, because of his particular role in the action, can't be on-screen very long.