Arthur Miller

The Crucible is a play written in the early 1950’s by Arthur Miller. By 1953 the play was running on Broadway at the Martin Beck, audiences and critics loved the play but it was said to be only second best to his earlier production “Death of a Salesman”. The political significance of the play was considerable in that it was written as a scathing attack on Senator McCarthy’s crusade against supposed communist sympathisers.

Miller himself was called before the House of Un-American Activities Committee, when he refused to answer the Committee’s questions about the names of persons present at meetings of Communist Party writers that he had attended in the 1930’s, he was convicted of contempt of Congress. The U. S. Supreme Court later threw out the conviction. In 1957 the play was produced on film in France, this was because people in the United States were afraid of being branded communists or communist sympathisers if they made the film there, Jean Paul Sartre wrote the screenplay.

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The French title for the film is ‘Les Sorcieres de Salem’, the film was remade in 1997 directed by Nicholas Hytner. The screenplay this time written by the eighty one-year-old Arthur Miller is a modern classic and a powerful drama that looks at and brings up issues of personal conscience and collective evil, a fictionalised version of the events, which happened in Salem, Massachusetts around 1692. Salem was a village dedicated to god, but there was also a feeling of evil and hysteria in this village, which eventually gave way to intolerance, persecution and the eventual hanging of 20 villagers.

The film centres on a group of early teenage girls who toy with witchcraft with the help of Tituba a black slave who teaches the girls about spirits. In this first scene they are caught in the woods carrying out supposed awful and evil acts by the local minister Reverend Parris. The girls are then accused of being witches and persecuted until, to escape punishment, one of the accused Abigail, played by Winona Ryder turns her vengeance on the wife of her lover accusing her of witchcraft. This sets in place a chain of events that have the girls generally accusing anyone they dislike of witchcraft.

Abigail has been having an affair with John Proctor, played by Daniel Day-Lewis. Joan Allen plays his wife Elizabeth, who knows of the affair. A doll is found in the Proctor’s house and this is considered sufficient evidence to support the claim that she is a witch. In an effort to protect his wife Proctor gets employee Mary Warren, who gave the doll to Elizabeth proctor, to testify. When Mary Warren enters the courtroom, Abigail and the other girls start to scream that she is sending her spirit upon them.

Mary panics and accuses John Proctor of sending his spirit out upon her. John is now accused of being in league with the devil and unwilling to confess or incriminate friends he is then put to death, but retains his good name and pride. . The scene I am about to review although not acted out in the original play was referred to frequently within the play, however in the film this first scene is used to good effect, I am going to look at how different things in this opening scene affect the audience.

The First thing that I am going to look at is sound, sound is very important to any film in that it creates atmosphere and tension. There are many things sound can do such as build up to create suspense or tension, and this opening scene is no exception. When the credits are rolling a deep echoing single drumbeat slowly comes in causing you to become intrigued with what is going to happen it sounds eerie and sort of frightening. A whistling sound slowly enters sounding like the wind slowly pushing itself past you; it begins to feel haunting and sinister.

The audience feel unsure as to what is going to happen, the beat begins to speed up pulling you further in and you want to know what’s ahead, you are intrigued. The drumbeat then comes to a halt but other instruments replace it, they are slowly speeding up the beat and you notice a violin in the background as it slowly becomes as loud as the rest. The music slowly begins to link in with what is happening on screen, you begin to hear the voices of young girls softly whispering to each other.


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