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AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE(director: George Schaefer; screenwriters: Alexander Jacobs/from the play “En folkefiende” by Henrik Ibsen/as adapted for the American stage by Arthur Miller; cinematographer: Paul Lohmann; editor: Sheldon Kahn; music: Leonard Rosenman; cast: Steve McQueen (Dr. Thomas Stockmann), Bibi Andersson (Catherine Stockmann), Charles Durning (Peter Stockmann), Richard A Dysart (Aslaksen), Michael Cristofer (Hovstad), Michael Higgins (Billing); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: G; producer: George Schaefer; Warner Brothers Classics; 1978)
“Even though it’s not an exciting venture, it’s at least tolerable and watchable—especially as a curio.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Longtime TV director George Schaefer (“Pendulum”/”Macbeth”/”A Piano for Mrs. Cimino “) directs this social conscience drama that’s based on a preachy but well intentioned classic Henrik Ibsen play. It’s written by Alexander Jacobs and was adapted to the American stage by Arthur Miller. A barely recognizable heavy bearded and spectacle wearing Steve McQueen goes against type of his familiar action hero role to play Dr. Thomas Stockmann, a peaceful dedicated doctor who stands alone in his small 19th century Norwegian town when he discovers a deadly water pollution in the therapeutic hot spring from the mill’s tannery and refuses to back down in reporting it as requested by the town leaders. Thomas’s arch enemy is his brother, the mayor Peter Stockmann (Charles Durning), who advises him to not have his magazine article published or else he will ruin the expected tourist boom for the struggling town and be an outcast. The town fathers maintain it would be too expensive to clean up the spring, and see no harm in keeping their dirty little secret to themselves. When the sincere whistle-blower Thomas publishes the article, his family divides up sides causing a rift in his marriage to Catherine (Bibi Andersson) and furthermore his practice goes down the drain.

The cinematic version of Ibsen suffers from being stage-bound and its dramatics never become compelling. Even though it’s not an exciting venture, it’s at least tolerable and watchable—especially as a curio. McQueen doesn’t embarrass himself but his role becomes increasingly more sentimentalized as he’s proclaimed by the town elders the “people’s enemy” and in the last act it reaches its most offensive moments when McQueen is forced to become a Christ-like martyr.

Warner Brothers didn’t think much of it and refused to release it in 1976, and when finally released in 1978, in a limited run, it refused to back it with publicity. The film wasn’t helped by receiving mostly tepid reviews.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”