Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Crucible (1996)

Arthur Miller's Solid Allegory of McCarthyism

The Crucible is a solid screen adaptation of Arthur Miller's 1953 play about the virulent Salem Witch trials (a take on the communist witch hunts in the 1940s-50s US), directed by Nicholas Hytner (The Madness of King George) and adapted by Miller himself for which he earned his only Oscar Nomination.

This is still obviously a play, but Miller makes concessions to cinema's need for speed, adding many exterior locations and keeping the action shifting constantly from one location to another to provide visual variety and heighten the tempo. He also dramatizes a few scenes hitherto summarized in dialogue, in particular the girls' forest revelry that instigates the plot; and some brief, newly devised scenes, such as a jailhouse send-off between Abigail and Proctor and a finishing execution scene.

It's a rather claustrophobic play on the stage, but the film opens things up and brings in some authentic New England atmosphere. The cast is strong throughout, although, maybe it's just me, but I don't quite accept Winona Ryder as the envious, devious Abigail. Her perfect roles seem to be those in which she can be spirited but essentially sweet and vulnerable, as she was in Little Women and Reality Bites.

Paul Scofield is an suitably hard-faced Judge Hathorne, Daniel Day-Lewis gives another dynamic performance as John Proctor, and Joan Allen, as Proctor's wife, proves herself a match for Day-Lewis. Allen's moving performance as Pat Nixon is the one good memory I have from Oliver Stone's headache-inducing kaleidoscope of a movie about Richard Nixon. Her performance in The Crucible is equally stunning. She looks every inch the Puritan wife - plain, stoic, reserved, full of suppressed emotion that pours forth in the climactic reunion with her husband. That scene between Day-Lewis and Allen, shot on a windy promontory against the background of the sea, is simply heartbreaking. It's worth the wait.

It's valuable to see a faithful screen version of this play noted for its allegory of McCarthyism, so younger generations who haven't seen it on stage will have a chance to experience it. Admittedly, this may not be the sort of film you'll return to on Saturday nights with popcorn in hand, but it's definitely worth watching once.

Free Streaming/Movie Download - Video Link: VeeHD


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