A review by Shlomoh Sherman

The film's script was written by Arthur Miller who wrote the original play in 1953.

The story takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, during the 17th century Colonial period when much of New England functioned as a group of theocracies. In Salem, the incidences of several children coming down with catatonic like illnesses, touches off a hysteria that leads to the search for Satan and his female accomplises, the witches, as the cause of the malady.

A 17-year-old girl, frustrated by the unrequited love of a married man, and seeking to wield power, conjures up a plot involving other teen age girls, to indict the respected citizens of the town as witches. The accused as wiches are brought to trial in what appears to be nothing more than a kangaroo court atmosphere, in which they are forced to inform on other "witches". At first, many of the innocently accused confess to witchcraft under the duress of torture.

Accusation follows accusation as the accused seek to mitigate their own punishment by casting aspersions on the lapses in orthodoxy of their neighbors. In all, 19 women and men were hanged in Salem as witches or witch accomplises. During the time of the executions of these innocents, the townspeople, who were forced to watch the hangings of neighbors they all knew to be innocent, became more and more determinded not to hand over their neighbors. Without this support from the local population, teh judges were unable to continue the trials.

The story of The Crucible was written in the early 1950s, during the height of our own century's witch hunts of the McCarthy Era, and I am sure that it is a reflection of what was occuring at the time of the writng when Americans sought to "prove" their own political orthodox purity by informing on their neighbors in a mood of hysteria.

The film brought back memories of my own teen age and reminded me that in order to receive my high school diploma (in 1954) I had to sign a loyalty oath along with all my school mates. I found the film hard to watch because it is more than a story of Salem. It is a story of persecution and victimization of innocent people who are considered "different" by the power elite who would foist their own orthodoxy on everyone.

The Crucible comes out at a time when our country is engaged in an ongoing struggle against a militant conservatism which would impose on all Americans a code of uniformity of belief reflecting a bygone era during which minorities of all kinds were allowed to be abused simply because they lacked power. It makes us mindfull of the fact that we cannot allow power driven individuals to lead us into an Orwellian world of 1984.

The stark New England landscape and the musical score are appropriately mood setting.

The film stars Winona Ryder, Daniel Day-Lewis, Joan Allen, and Paul Scofield.

The film's running time is 115 minutes.

The Crucible is rated PG-13.

New York

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