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CRUCIBLE, THE (director: Nicholas Hytner; screenwriter: Arthur Miller/from the play by Arthur Miller; cinematographer: Andrew Dunn; editor: Tariq Anwar; music: George Fenton; cast: Daniel Day-Lewis (John Proctor), Winona Ryder (Abigail Williams), Paul Scofield (Judge Danforth), Joan Allen (Elizabeth Proctor), Bruce Davison (Reverend Parris), Rob Campbell (Reverend Hale); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Robert A. Miller/David V. Picker; 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; 1996)
“It couldn’t be more timely or relevant.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The film about the Salem, Massachusetts, witchcraft trials circa 1662 is based on Arthur Miller’s acclaimed 1953 play The Crucible, which was meant to point out the dangers of the Commie witch hunts and the Red-baiting ofSen. Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee–where Miller was called before to testify. Miller was cited for contempt when he refused to name names of those Commies he knew or to get his wife, Marilyn Monroe, to submit to a photo op with the HUAC chief Walters.

The Crucible serves as a compelling and well-acted courtroom drama period piece (using the antique English poetics of the period) about modern man’s fears and perils he still faces from political and religious extremism. As the warped thinking goes as a result of mob hysteria, the Devil is on the loose and could be anywhere (Rock ‘n’ Roll, gay marriages or anyone not a Muslim); the charlatans use the Devil in their fanatic zeal to bring down those they hate, which is the message delivered for the public not to get paranoid over such false perceptions and act violently irrational in the name of God. It couldn’t be more timely or relevant. The 81-year-old Miller retooled the script for boyish director Nicholas Hytner (“The Madness of King George”/”The Object of My Affection”) and his $25 million film, as they made it more airy and cinematic. What the filmmaker couldn’t do is make the characters more involving and the hysteria more convincing. It was previously filmed in France in 1956 and starred Simone Signoret and Yves Montand.

The stern Judge Danforth (Paul Scofield) is used to portray the pervasive powers of the government that hunt down so-called evil-doers and prosecute them, as he presides over the Salem witch-craft trials. The story centers around the 17-year-old Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder). When she’s spotted one moonlit night drinking rooster’s blood during an all-girl pagan ritual she, as the group’s leader, reacts after being accused of witch-craft (a crime punishable by hanging) by starting the witch hunts. Abigail, when a household servant, slept with the principled farmer John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis). Afterwards rejected and fired, out of revenge, points the finger at his repressed wife, Elizabeth (Joan Allen), as a witch. When the the Reverend Parris (Bruce Davison) hears of these accusations, for the good of the community he brings the charges to the attention of Danforth to determine if the party is guilty or innocent.

The Crucible in intensity and theme most closely resembles Carl Dreyer’s 1928 masterpiece “The Passion of Joan of Arc.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”