The Crucible

Arthur Miller adapts his own early 50s play about witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, and he, director Nicholas Hytner, and a superb cast headed by Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, Joan Allen, and Bruce Davison do a fine job of making it work (1996). Praised as well as attacked (in its own time as well as ours) as an allegory about the cold-war witch hunts, the work can’t be reduced to that dimension alone; it has plenty to say about sexual repression and puritanical hysteriatwo constants in American history over the past three centuriesand how these intersect with personal as well as public politics. Though Hytner remains essentially a stage director, he makes fine use of Massachusetts locations and period interiors; some of the visual details recall Dreyer’s Day of Wrath, a film that likely had an influence on Miller’s play. Then as now, Miller’s liberal vision is limited by certain historical and psychological simplifications, but never to the point of losing the disturbing ambiguities that give this work much of its primal power; The Crucible continues to be performed almost constantly across the globe, and this intelligent mounting shows why. PG-13, 123 min. (JR)

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