Salem, Massachusetts, 1692: under a full moon, a minister sees teenage girls dance naked in the forest around a boiling pot. But in all its troubled history, Salem never saw such a scene. Protected young girls couldn't slip out of home, and were too inhibited by Puritan society to dance naked. In a story about false accusations and imagined transgressions, this scene was rightly done offstage in the 1952 stage production. To show it is a mistake; what we imagine witches doing is far more troubling than what we see here.((Religious hysteria fanned by denied, repressed sexual lust spawned false accusations of witchcraft, inspired by sexual revenge or misguided holy ecstasy. The play as first produced was an allegory about Senator McCarthy's anti-communist frenzy. Now, ironically, we are again concerned about Satan-worship (which might die if its opponents didn't publicize it).
At the center of the story, John Proctor (Day-Lewis), a good man, commits adultery with a saucy servant, Abigail Williams (Ryder), one of the naked night dancers, later furious at being rejected when Proctor repents, and his wife, Elizabeth (Allen), dismisses her. Seen in the forest by Rev. Parris (Davison) and charged with unholy behavior, she counters with accusations about Proctor.((Rev. Hale (Campbell) forces another reveler to confess - a slave from Barbados, who tutored the girls (but it's hard to imagine so easily crossing class and racial barriers in 1692). Soon, the village is rife with counter-accusations. Hale suspects most of them, but events have been put unstoppably in motion.
Judge Danforth (Scofield), an experienced witch-hunter, takes an hard line against witchcraft, and can't back down when evidence evaporates. He believes someone should be punished, so witchcraft won't be condoned, and is afraid of losing face. At the climax, the accused must admit guilt or be executed. We know who's guilty, who's not, and the issues, but as Proctor makes his moral stand from the scaffold, we aren't convinced. The story is the right, but needs more of human nature.((Elizabeth Proctor, Rev. Hale, and Judge Danforth are plausible; others aren't. The village girls (Abigail Williams especially) don't fit the 17th century, but flutter crazily around, as if they'd seen too many movies. This version of "The Crucible' is full of ideas, but they aren't organically part of the material.
Arthur Miller, based on his play
Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Joan Allen, Paul Scoffield, Bruce Davidson, Rob Campbell
1692 Salem witch trials
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