This Mexican melodrama from 1933 focuses on a corrupt, alcoholic military officer whose abusive personality creates a permanent fissure in his personal life. His long-suffering wife leaves him and takes their infant son. Despite his efforts to locate them, he fails.
Years later, the officer is colonel in charge of rounding up revolutionaries who are trying to overthrow the Mexican government. The family of a wealthy revolutionary successfully bribes the colonel to release their nihilist scion. But the colonel needs to fill a place for the missing prisoner, who was supposed to be executed the following morning. He orders his soldiers to arrest the first man they find on the street and make him the replacement prisoner – and, as luck would have it, that arrested man is the colonel’s long-lost son.
“Prisoner 13″ might have been an ironic and involving production, but sadly it is typical of many features made in the early years of sound cinema: theatrical acting, stagnant camerawork, clumsy editing and a sense of stale lethargy. Outside of the artistic firing squad scenes, with a bold use of tracking shots and startling natural lighting, the whole movie looks like a filmed play – and not a very good one, both in style and substance. The film also provides the ultimate cheat ending which should make today’s viewers hoot with derision at the hoariest of denouements imaginable.