Compania Nacional Productora de Peliculas, 1933, 76 minutes
Cast: Alfred del Diestro, Luis Barreiro, Adela Sequeyro and Arturo Campoamor
Screenplay: Miguel Ruiz and Fernando Fuentes
Producer: Gustavo Saenz de Sicila and Luis Sanchez Tello
Director: Fernando Fuentes
Social tensions bubbled beneath the prosperity of Porfiro Diaz’s thirty-four-year-long dictatorship. A middle-class revolution organized by Francisco Madero in November 1910 was easily crushed but the uprising unleashed powerful social forces. In the north, Pascal Orozco and Pancho Villa led a revolt against local oligarchs. One of the more effective leaders in the south was a village chief in Morelos named Emiliano Zapata. Faced with rebellions in eighteen states, Diaz fled the country in May 1911. Madero became president but when Diaz loyalists launched a coup in February 1913, he mistakenly trusted General Victoriano Huerta, who switched sides, deposed Madero, and then made himself president.
Huerta dismissed Villa and Zapata as threats but the situation worsened when Venustiano Carranza, governor of Coahuila, assumed leadership of the revolution. Despite Huerta’s contempt, Villa had built up a professional army, while Zapata had become a skilled guerrilla. Huerta would have been overthrown sooner but Carranza resented Villa’s autonomy, and favored Alvaro Obregon, a more loyal general. When Huerta fled to exile in Spain in July 1914, Carranza thought that he was the natural choice for president, but Villa and Zapata had the two largest armies in Mexico, and they detested Carranza. However, Obregon still nursed a grudge because Villa had tried to execute him. Since Zapata had little interest in events outside of Morelos, Villa was left to face Obregon alone. Several large-scale battles proved that Villa was simply a charismatic cavalry leader, and he was forced to limp back to Chihuahua. Leaving Villa and Zapata contained in their respective strongholds, Carranza took control of the rest of Mexico. A desperate Zapata was assassinated in April 1919, but Carranza’s opposition to Obregon’s candidacy for president proved fatal in May 1920. Villa was allowed to retire in exchange for peace, which ended the revolution after ten long, blood-soaked years.
Colonel Julian Carrasco (Alfred del Diestro) drinks too much because he is unhappy with his wife Marta (Adela Sequeyro) and his position. Tired of his drinking and sleeping around, Marta finally leaves with their baby son Juan. By the time Juan (Arturo Campoamor) has become a young man, the revolution has broken out. Commanding the battalion in the town, Colonel Carrasco receives a list of people involved in the revolution and has them all arrested. Hoping to secure the release of her son Felipe, a rich woman bribes a crony of the colonel to arrange a meeting. Unfortunately, the list has already been sent to the governor, who will undoubtedly order their execution, but the colonel’s friend Mr. Certucci (Luis Barreiro) lacks moral fibre and comes up with a plan to substitute someone else for the son. After cutting his captain in on the deal, Carrasco releases the son, and has the captain arrest someone who looks like Felipe. So, the captain arrests Juan while he is talking to his girlfriend, prompting Marta to seek help from her estranged husband. However, they arrive after he has gone to bed, and must wait until he wakes up at dawn. Unfortunately, the colonel oversleeps, and rushes to save his son from execution.
There is not a lot of historical context, aside from a picture of the dictator Huerta in the colonel’s office. However, the presentation of mass arrests, which led to mass executions, is understated. Huerta was not concerned with due process, so anyone suspected of rebel sympathies was likely to be arrested. Actually, the streets were not safe at night, regardless of whether or not one had rebel sympathies. Faced with a powerful revolution, Huerta responded by transforming Mexico into a military state, inflating the army to 200,000 men by seizing thousands of men as conscripts and women to work in the gunpowder factories, depriving factories and businesses of labor. Terrified of the relentless press gangs, young people dared not leave their homes after dark. The obsession with the military reflected the fact that Huerta’s life had been shaped by the army. Even as president, he spent his time surrounded by military men, inspecting troops and viewing parades during the day, and drinking with old soldiers at night.
Filmed in 1933, the acting is a bit stiff, but normal for the time period.
Several scenes present the sexual mores of the time. The young couple talk through the iron bars on her window and sneak kisses when no one is around. Clearly, times are changing, the mother repeatedly pulls her daughter’s dress over her knees during the interview with the colonel’s friend.
The negotiation between Colonel Carrasco and the mother and sister is surprisingly honest, and he seems genuinely conflicted or fearful, but is willing to sell out for the right price.
A twist ending transforms Prisoner 13 into a morality play. While the film does not say much about the revolution, it is interesting and must have been quite daring for the time.
Given the grim atmosphere, it is recommended for fans of Pre-code film and film buffs but not the average viewer.