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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Crucible (1996)



Reviews and Comments

Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible is about imagined practices of witchcraft and finger pointing based on suspicions, vengeance, and an intolerance for individuality. This film version of the play sucks much of the depth of these underlying themes out of the story with but a single scene. We see several young girls engaging in witchcraft, as does the local minister. Imagine for yourself what a different, more intriguing light would have been cast on the early scenes of this film, and see for yourself what a mistake this was. And what of these girls? Logically, we may know their motives, but their accusative frenzies come off as mechanical and unbelievable, and certainly not representative of their times.

Yet there is still a lot of power in certain aspects of this adaptation. Daniel Day-Lewis strikes the right notes in his performance of John Proctor, an imperfect but good man forcibly dragged into the senseless fray. Joan Allen and Paul Scofield also turn in strong performances, but the latter, as Judge Danforth, is partly let down by the script, which fails to accentuate enough the human aspect of his dilemma: evidence for the witch hunt becomes less and less sketchy, but already many have confessed or been sentenced to death -- how can he reverse his decisions? These themes come through, but have less impact than they should.

Yet the moving tragedy, the gross injustice of the Salem witch trials comes through in full force. It's just a shame more humanity didn't show through.

This concludes my review, but I would like to add a personal note. In several scenes, you can see a black and white border collie roaming around the streets. That dog's real name is Teal; her father, Pete, was also around behind the camera, and the pair of them were used to control the other animals in the film. These two dogs and a couple others are owned by a farmer who brings his dogs to an annual town fair at Deerfield, New Hampshire, to give a demonstration of how working dogs are used. I had attended these shows yearly, become pleasantly familiar with his dogs, and it was thus a happy surprise when, at the 1995 fair, he announced he had just returned from the set of The Crucible, and that that was why Teal looked unusually scrawny and scruffy -- she hadn't yet grown out of the ratty furstyle that the director wanted for the movie.

There is no point to this story. It's just a, well, "neat" event in my life.