on July 19, 2002
Since Miller helped write the screenplay and one of his sons produced or coproduced the movie, it shouldn't be a shock that the movie is so faithful to the original text where it needs to be and broadens the story where it needs to, as well. Miller knows how to write for the stage, and he apparently knows how to write for the screen, also. After seeing so many "classic" books and/or plays butchered by Hollywood, this movie is a real delight, despite its morbid and all-too-realistic story. This movie has become an essential to my Grade 11 American Literature classes, spectacularly complementing their reading of Miller's play and several pieces from the Salem Witch Trial era.
Ignoring the play's historic flaws and inaccuracies (that's another debate for another time), Miller brilliantly captured the essence of the Salem Witch Trials in his play and has conveyed them to the screen. Hatred, fear, jealousy, hypocrisy, religious mania, attention-seeking, conviction, strength, determination, repentance, and a host of other emotions and character traits are vividly brought to life by a superb cast: Daniel Day-Lewis is a great John Proctor (nobody else could have done better), Winona Ryder is very good as the conniving and bitter Abigail Williams, Joan Allen was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Elizabeth Proctor, and Paul Scofield should have won an Oscar for his cold-hearted portrayal of Justice Danforth. The conflict between Proctor and Danforth is what sustains the play's momentum for the second and third acts (about the last hour and fifteen minutes of the movie), and Lewis and Scofield bring that epic conflict to life: the classic good v. evil, with the sides getting somewhat mixed up as to who is who. . . . Lewis plays the flawed hero to Scofield's self-righteous and vindictive villain with palpable energy. How Scofield's performance was overlooked by the Academy is just another example of their oblivion. He gives me the willies with his methodical, calculating delivery of Miller's chilling dialogue: "Who weeps for these weeps for corruption" (among a bunch of great lines from the play/movie).
This isn't simply a play enacted in front of movie cameras (like Death of a Salesman). The director uses his camera very effectively, capturing some great close-up moments, unique perspectives and camera angles, and bringing a sense of "bigness" to the whole story. The play can seem very isolated, with its sparse sets and black-and-white costumes. Miller also expands the movie to begin well before the play does (giving the movie-goer information that he must have assumed the play-reader would already have) and extending it beyond the conviction of Proctor to include his execution, along with that of Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey. Just as a side note, each of those three was hanged in a separate group in the original trials--great symbolism from Miller, including each larger original group of victims in the final trio. Also great symbolism in Proctor's Christ-like physical placement in the middle of the two "sinners," as he takes their sins upon him--the crucifixion is represented very effectively.
Bottom line: You won't see a better adaptation of a play to movie anytime soon. Nothing essential is left out, and some nice details are brought in to give the movie a distinction from its original source, the play. If you can make it through this play and not be outraged by the injustice and hypocrisy, then you have a heart as cold as Danforth's. What Miller would likely want you to do is apply that outrage to similar situations that go on every day, just as he intended with his original play (the McCarthy hearings, the "Red" Scare). At least watch the movie, though.
on May 10, 2000
You'd be hard pressed to find a story more compelling than the one that inspired Arthur Miller's 1953 drama The Crucible. Except the one about how it became a movie. It's taken all these years to bring a full version to the screen, and the only thing that explains it is Hollywood's perpetual cluelessness. The Salem witch trials of 1692 destroyed nineteen lives and countless reputations. Hoodwinked by a bunch of flighty teenage girls who wished to escape a whipping for their frolics in the woods, the town brought in the colony magistrates to sort out the devils from the angels.
Miller, who also wrote the screenplay, expresses his blatant contempt for hypocrisy in all forms through the character of John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis), a humble but once-adulterous farmer. Proctor's sexual escapades with the town's main accuser Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder) could, through the girl's treachery, end in his wife's hanging. He can either save himself with a lie or free Elizabeth (Joan Allen) with the truth about himself and Abigail.
It's potent stuff any way you slice it, and the actors here aren't afraid to take big bites of their meaty roles. The film's pacing is fast and furious, hysterical like the history of the event it interprets. If it lacks the McCarthyist subtext it once had, so what. This here's a tragedy--a good old American one.
The movie's inevitable ending won't satisfy those who want only fluff and feathers at the cinema, but the hard lesson won by those who refuse to compromise their principles can't be denied. The Crucible is a faithful testament to their sacrifice.
on July 4, 1999
I have never seen a stage version of The Crucible (although I have read and studied the play many times), but I can safely recommend this film as the most brilliant film adaptation of a play (ranking along side 'Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?') that I've ever seen. Boasting a cast that includes Daniel Day Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Schofield and Joan Allen this film managed to pass unnoticed beneath the public eye. It was directed by Nicholas Hytner (of 'The Madness of King George' fame) and the screenplay was written by Miller himself, if this is not enough to make the general public haul themselves off the sofa, I don't know what is. The thing I liked most about the film was that you could finally see events that were only reported upon in the play (such as what really happened in the woods, and the trials of the lesser characters). What makes the film even more poignant is the fact that it is based on true events which took place during the Salem witch hunts. I am aware that Miller only wrote the play to comment on the McCarthy communist witch hunts (which labelled Miller himself as a left wing sympathiser), but now that the 'red threat' is over, the film becomes a saga about how our beliefs can influence our relationships with other people. Joan Allen was robbed of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar by Juliette Binoche, and she turns in a stunning performance as the truly holy Elizabeth Proctor, almost defiled by Winona Ryder's equally brilliant woman scorned. My favourite among the cast was an actress I hadn't seen before and haven't heard of since: the actress (Karon Graves?) who played Mary Warren, the girl who knows she and her friends are lying, but when she tells the truth, Abby points the finger at her. I dare you to watch this and not enjoy it.
on December 3, 2003
The Crucible is gripping, yet it is also frightening and terrible in the inexorable march of its protagonists towards their doom. The story is based on Arthur Miller's rendition of the infamous 1692 Salem witch trials. In this Puritan town, a group of girls are caught dancing and love-spell casting in the woods. To save themselves from being whipped, they claim it was the Devil's doing and furthermore that some of Salem's residents are compacted with Lucifer. But private vengeance is also at work here. The girls' ringleader, Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder) is obsessed with a local farmer (Daniel Day-Lewis) and will stop at nothing to get him for herself. Then the court investigating the claims of witchery begins to proscribe hanging for those who won't 'confess'. . . . . . . . . .
It is unfortunate then, that a movie such as this is marred by several flaws. While it vividly and unnervingly portrays the transformation of a community into warring factions, and ultimately the disintegration into mob-mentality and mass hysteria, it also seems very stagey. You can almost see the notations in the film script - "crowd murmurs in agreement", and so on. Additionally, Day-Lewis, and particularly Ryder, play the entire film at full volume. Thus, several integral speeches get lost in the blast. However, there are some excellent performances from those in the court scenes - the steely remorselessness of Judge Danforth and the pompous and insidious questioning of Judge Hathorne. Fortunately director Nicholas Hytner has moved as much of the action as possible out of doors, which is just as well, for Puritan dwellings are no great objects of beauty.
However, despite its shortcomings and largely unadventurous cinematography, The Crucible is a film that will remain with the viewer long after its dramatic and memorable conclusion. Even in death there is triumph and redemption.
on February 14, 2008
If you can watch this film and not go through every emotion you own, then you need to check yourself for a pulse.
Of course, I'm being a bit silly with my opening to this review, but the reality is that this is a film that will touch you on every imaginable level if you can get past the era in which the story takes place and the hysteria of that time period. Rehashing the plot is a waste at this point as almost every student in America has read this play in their 11th grade English class, but this story is as relevant today as the day it was written and the time in which the story takes place.
Arthur Miller wrote this story as an indictment against McCarthism and although that time has past we still have similar witch hunts today and, sadly, always will. 1970's had us pointing fingers, thanks to Anita Bryant, anyone we thought might be a closet homosexual. The 1980's had us pointing fingers at anyone who had more wealth than we did (much like in "The Crucible"). The 1990's had us pointing fingers at family members based on so-called "recovered memories" of sexual abuse (later proven to psychological hogwash, but a clever way to get back at and smear the name of a family member we didn't like). And this century has us pointing fingers at anyone Middle Eastern as a terrorist. I recall immediately after 9/11 our leading law enforcement official, John Ashcroft, going on national television and warning us to be on the look out for "those that don't belong." To me, that was government sanctioned racism at its worst. I was hurt by 9/11, but I was hurt even more by that reaction to it. This cuts to the heart of Miller's story wherein anyone can point a finger at anyone and destroy a life, a family, a community for personal gain and that gain can be financial, emotional, political, or whatever. As long as we have people that are motivated by hate, fear, and power, this story will remain timeless and will never be irrelevant.
As far as the performances go, I can't think of finer acting off the top of my head than those in this film and most especially by Daniel Day-Lewis whose final lines will stir your very soul and Joan Allen who can play some one so cold with such depth of feeling. Like Lewis, her final scenes are unforgettable. You simply can't walk away from this film the same person you were before you saw it. It is truly that moving. All the supporting cast members are familiar faces and all do an outstanding job, especially Winona Ryder in what is probably the best performance of her young career.
her character's obsessive and selfish desire to have the one man she can't sets the ball in motion in this story and she, sadly, has no real regrets. She is conflicted in knowing that her actions are basically wrong, but that they are still somehow justifiable. Ryder truly captures the soul, or lack thereof, of this character. She is extraordinary here.
The screenplay is adapted by Miller who wrote the play itself and makes the shift from play to screen seamlessly. The direction is confident and appropriately claustrophobic. He allows his actors do their thing without heavy handed influence. The score is terrific and stirring, and the cinematography has almost a documentary feel to it.
Rent or buy this modern masterpiece; it is worthy of your attention.
One last note. So many know this story, but, surprisingly, few seem to adequately understand it's title. I thought the below might be helpful:
The American Heritage Dictionary defines "crucible" as:
1. A severe test, as of patience or belief; a trial.
2. A place, time, or situation characterized by the confluence of powerful intellectual, social, economic, or political forces.
on September 8, 2004
THE CRUCIBLE, Arthur Miller's masterful parable of hypocrisy and cynicism during the communist "witch hunts" of the McCarthy era, can stand on its own as a story about the Salem Witch trials from seventeenth century New England. Besides, Miller offers about as many wonderful quotes as you might find only in the works of the immortal Bard of Stratford on Avon. Consider just a few:
- Oh, Elizabeth, your justice would freeze beer!
- Oh God forbid that such an one is charged but she is mentioned somewhat.
- Are the accusers always holy now? Were they born this morning as pure as God's fingers? I'll tell you what's walking Salem: vengeance! The little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom and common vengeance writes the law!
- Now Hell and Heaven grapple on our backs and all our old pretenses ripped away! Aye! And God's icy wind will blow.
- The pure in heart need no lawyers, Mr. Proctor, proceed as you will.
- For a man of such terrible learning you are most bewildered, Mr. Hale.
- Now, we will touch the bottom of this swamp.
The film adaptation is splendid and you just can't miss with Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder!
The Crucible, based on Arthur Miller's play, is an entertaining, if not always accurate version of the events in 1692 Salem Village. Having read numerous books on the subject I still cannot say with any certainty what led to the events that so many men and women were accused of witchcraft and so many young girls seemed to be afflicted. One can question why it was only Salem's females, and not males that seemed afflicted with screams, catatonic states, hallucinations, etc...At any rate, one conclusion that I could not draw was that of a woman scorned, in this case Abigail Williams played by Winona Ryder whose advances are refused by the married John Proctor (Daniel Day Lewis). The Proctors are also a good deal younger in the film than they were in real life. John was sixty when he was hung. Elizabeth would have been in her mid 40's at the time of the trials. Pregnancy saved her from the hangman's noose.
The film does maintain a fair dose of accuracy in its treatment of the slave Tituba and her part in the whole affair as well as the accusations against some of the towns "trouble makers" such as goody Nurse and Giles Corey who was pressed to death for refusing to testify. The courtroom scenes were the most dynamic and exciting, and called to mind those period paintings from old books depicting the trials with stern, puritanical judges pointing accusing fingers. The film also did a good job of capturing that stifling, repressive 17th century setting and the costuming was first rate.
The best performances for me came from those men portraying the various ministers and judges, particularly Bruce Davison as Reverend Parris and Paul Scofield as Judge Danforth. While not an entirely accurate film it still does a good job at capturing one of the seminal events in early American history.
Reviewed by Tim Janson
on October 15, 2003
The Crucible, Arthur Miller's masterpiece written in answer to the foolishness, hypocrisy and tragedy surrounding the dark days of McCarthyism, shows how those who refuse to learn their history are doomed to repeat it. Using the Salem Witch Trials as his palette, Miller paints a stunning picture of how deceit, ignorance and superstition--characteristics still in abundance in our society today--can be interwoven and supercharged to drive seemingly rational people into madness.
The Crucible continues to be a profound parable for our times and invites viewers who readily recognize the absolute folly of the darkest days of Colonial Salem to admit that such nonsense is possible today when politics, pettiness and pride run amok in modern society.
Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis stars as the hapless John Proctor, a man torn between a desire to save friends and family and the struggle to retain a good name. Winona Ryder is absolutely diabolical as the deceitful temptress and adulteress Abigail Williams, who plants the seeds that result in a community torn apart. The movie is crowned by great supporting performances by Paul Scofield as Judge Thomas Danforth, Joan Allen as Elizabeth Proctor, Bruce Davison as Reverend Parris, Rob Campbell as Reverend Hale and Jeffrey Jones as Thomas Putnam.
Can't wait for the DVD!
Flashback: it's the 1950's and we are beseiged by Sen. Joseph McCarthy is on a rampange to "clean America" of communists, homosexuals, and anything else deemed to threaten the fabric of our nation. People are in an uproar, willing to name names and blacklist anyone possibly associated with Communism. Lives are destroyed, careers are ruined. Arthur Miller's answer: write a play, in the form of The Crucible. What's amazing is how a play about an outrageous event in the late 1600's, in response to an outragous event in the 1950's, is so terribly relevant today.
Arthur Miller penned the screenplay for this movie, based on his own play. Made into a movie in 1996, the reviews were tepid at best.Yet I recall fondly sitting in the theater, absolutely transfixed at the story, knowing I was seeing a classic in front of me. Directed by Nicholas Hytner, the Crucible is both visually stunning and a slave to a great story with great characters. John Proctor is played flawlessly by Daniel Day-Lewis, a man with a past who regrets his actions and loves his family. Equally flawless is the never-go-wrong Joan Allen, playing his always truthful wife Emily. Caught in the web of their family is young Abagail Williams, acted by a never better Winona Ryder, who loves John and in doing so, tries to destroy his family.
Events of the story get set into motion immediately, by a group of young girls who venture out into the evening to create a magical potions to conjure the affections of the town's boys. What transpires from there, things grow quickly and blatantly out of control, as innocent person after innocent person is flung into the pit of suspicion, based on the heresay of a few imporessionable girls. Miller balances perfectly the trial of suspicions with the unfolding drama of a family unraveling, creating a mesmerizing piece.
Even moreso, the Crucible is a tale for today. How many elements in our own society today would be willing to sell out some of our lesser folks to create a safer place? Listen very carefully to Hytner's commentary track on the DVD, which is informative and wise. He hits the nail on the head during the final, heartbreaking scene. The message of this play, the message of this movie, shall never become obsolete, as long as we have people in our society who unfairly judge others on the altar of righteousness.
The Crucible demands repeated viewings for excellent acting, intense drama, and a visually beautiful film to watch, as well as a lesson for us all.
on December 20, 2000
Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE is one of the best plays that I have ever read, and now it is one of the best films I've ever seen. Although the action is a little shaky in the beginning, the pace picks up when the trials begin. It may be wise to read the play first to understand the background of the various characters. THE CRUCIBLE is the story of the Salem Witch trials of 1692. To me it shows the tragedy of the human condition. The people of Salem really hate one another, as Abigail points out, but because of their Puritan faith they must repress their emotions.
Winona Ryder succeeds marvelously as Abigail Williams. Abigail is selfish and deluded into thinking that she loves married John Procter, with whom she had an affair. Abigail "means to dance with John on his wife's grave" and she will stop at nothing to have him, even when she accuses innocent people of witchcraft. She has no idea of the enormous consequences of her actions. Towards the films end, she comes to John Procter in jail hoping that he will go with her on a ship to America. Her pleading, "I never dreamed this for you," is a true one. But John Procter replies aptly by saying that the only time they will meet again is in hell. Abigail then disappears, never to be seen again.
Daniel Day-Lewis is superb as John Procter. He is a man of reason who is faced with an impossible choice. He either must give into the lie and save his life, or remain silent. His final "Give me my name" speech will have you in tears.
Joan Allen is great as Elizabeth, Procter's frigid wife. Her breakdown at the end also induces some tears. She loves John, and respects his decision, "He have his goodness now, God forbid me take it from him!"
THE CRUCIBLE shows how good people can be forced to do despicable things without helping themselves. As a tragedy of the human spirit, THE CRUCIBLE is a masterpiece. Bravo for everyone.