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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

'The Crucible' premieres in Spaulding, gets rave reviews

Anticipation choked Spaulding Auditorium last Saturday as a sold-out audience waited for the first public screening ever of the film version of Arthur Miller's classic play "The Crucible."

The lights dropped and a shaft of light illuminated a lone microphone standing in a corner of the stage. Bill Pence, the Hopkins Center's director of film, flatteringly introduced one of Dartmouth's most famous alumni in the film industry, David V. Picker '53, the producer of the film.

In a humorous and charismatic speech, Picker briefly explored the historical background behind the film and Miller's works and provided an insightful prologue to a compelling film.

Having served as president of United Artists, Columbia Pictures and Paramount Pictures, Picker has brought us an impressing list of movies including the James Bond series, "Saturday Night Fever," "Midnight Cowboy," "The Jerk" and the Woody Allen movies.

His films have greatly influenced our culture, and "The Crucible" will no doubt become a similarly timeless classic.

Miller, now 80, was on hand for parts of the making of the film, which remains remarkably true to the original.

The project was funded by Twentieth-Century Fox, who agreed to support the $10 million-dollar production without exercising any creative control over it.

The film is purely a result of the vision of the cast, crew, and Miller.

"The Crucible," which first hit Broadway in 1953, is commonly regarded as an implicit criticsm of the McCarthy era. The feelings of paranoia and injustice, rampant during those days, are preserved.

The Salem witch trials, like the McCarthy red-hunting, were a tumultuous time in American history. Greed, superstition, betrayal and deceit tore at the seams of government and society.

Those were times when the powerful acted for its own ends, and the weak cowered subserviently under the fear-mongering of demagogues, or were martyred on a cross of their own principles.

The film opens with the evil, possessed dancing of a few young girls, and rides on a plateau of frenzy until the last seconds before the credits.

The film grabs the audience and doesn't let go for an hour and a half as you feel the characters slip deeper into an insane downward spiral of helplessness. It's an active movie, not a sleeper like "Speed," with a moral message.

Daniel Day-Lewis, in his usual form, plays John Proctor, the deeply moral, down-to-earth farmer.

He is able to transcend the tide of community opinion. When he and his wife are accused of witchery he does everything in his power to stop the insanity of the proceedings.

Torn between love and conscience, Proctor catalyzes the end of the trials while Abbey (Winona Ryder) basks in her wickedness.

Many other actors and actresses effectively illuminate the characters created by Miller.

The Marshall, a man named Cheever (John Greesner, who was sitting in the audience) was fiery and very militant, devoutly performing his office.

Despite its desperate, serious tone, the movie managed to generate a few laughs.

Judge Hawthorne, befuddled and unshaken, was unknowingly hilarious during even the most tense moments. His absurd logic and ignorant, backward reasoning are what kept the trials alive and the audience entranced.

The biggest laugh occured when one official condescendingly argued "... but I was educated at Harvard College!" The comment drew such a response from the Dartmouth audience especially during a weekend when Dartmouth's football team defeated Harvard.

Other comments pointing at the impure nature of Massachusetts government officials conjured laughs.

However, these isolated amusements did not detract from the brevity of the material. The cinematographer's technique was the primary cause of the frantic, murky feeling of the film.

The movie was shot predominantly in the darkness or shade, generating the gloomy, uncertain feelings evoked by night. Dark colonial homes, stormy New England nights and filthy puritan prisons were the main settings of the story.

Lighting was used effectively and was reserved only for illuminating characters at times of truth or epiphany. The lighting provided an easy-to-follow device to illuminate certain scenes.

"The Crucible" was well-composed, in terms of cinematography, acting and content but it may not appeal to a mass audience.

The Dartmouth audience seemed excited to see the film release of a play of great literary and social merit.

Others may be drawn to the film for other reasons -- for the lust, violence, greed and deception that is hidden but pervasive in the film.

Undoubtedly the film version of "The Crucible" will over time become a classic -- telling a story which raises, and will continue to raise, timeless issues.

It will be shown in classrooms, like Mel Gibson's recent "Hamlet" and like "Schindler's List," it will be the focus of many future discussions.

At the panel discussion in the faculty lounge at the Top of the Hop following the screening of the film, many people discussed how the story connected to the audiences of today.

Some posited that themes of child abuse, women's rights, and racism could be interpreted from the meaning and provide a modern identity for the play.

The success of "The Crucible" will, in the end, be determined not by its profits at the box-office, but by its contribution to American culture.