A Comparison of Films: The 1996 Crucible and The 1957 Crucible

The differences between the 1957 film version of the Crucible and the 1996 version of the movie are definitely clear-cut. One notable difference is that the 1957 adaptation of the film is French, necessitating background information for the French audiences. Another major difference is that Jean Paul Sartre, a major philosopher of the twentieth century, acted as the screenplay adapter and also as a contributor in the older cinematic version of the play. The films vary in their prospective audiences and ideas.

The 1957 version is, in every respect, French. It is spoken in French, with English subtitles, involving some of the largest names in French cinema. For this reason, additions to the play had to be included, the largest of which involves the general need to inform the French audience about the nature of this period in American history. At the beginning of the film, a simple subtitle is seen stating the religious condition of America at that point in time and the extremism that was common in the Puritan faith. The first thirty minutes of the movie were spent solely dealing with background information, explaining each character’s position and their motivations. In comparison to the 1996 version, this film leaves little to the imagination of the viewer. The more recent movie simply mentions the events through the dialogue of the play. The French version adds dialogue not previously included. This extra information was provided to the French viewer who does not know the history during this time and the truly theocratic nature of society in Salem. Proctor is working on the Sabbath and is accosted for it. Tituba is seen as mysterious and pagan to others. Parris is shown preaching about Hell. Adultery is considered a crime against heaven. All of these tidbits are seen and register information about the religious situation in Salem to the unfamiliar audience as they watch the beginning allowing them to understand the situation. This explanation was unnecessary in the 1996 version as the American audience was already aware of the situation in Salem.

Jean Paul Sartre, one of the greatest contributors to philosophy, is the adapter of this movie. For this reason, one must look at his beliefs as a scholar. He is considered the most renowned of the existentialists. He believes that “existence precedes essence”: action determines who a person is more than thoughts. This primary philosophy of his explains much of the newly added material in the 1957 version. For example, nearing the end of the Sartre film, he makes sure that the viewer understands that Proctor lives in an existentialist mindset. Proctor sees himself as a man created by his actions. If he were to save himself, he would define himself as a selfish, as unprincipled, even if these adjectives go against his thoughts. Dying as the individual he is becomes more important to him than living as the wrong person. Sartre chose this play as a vessel to artistically express his beliefs. Using Proctor as a vessel, Sartre creates an example to his belief of “existence precedes essence”. The 1996 version does not have this same connotation. This version, along with the original play, is not meant to be an existentialist manifesto but rather a symbol for misguided justice. Miller desired the play to be a force against the McCarthy Era by showing that blind accusations existed and continue to exist. It is fascinating that the same play acts as a vehicle for two different ideas so simply.

Because of these two factors, that play large roles in the recreation of the Crucible, the 1957 version has, in many ways, a different story. The same events occur, just new ones are also included. The movie is changed because of the French viewing audience and the inclusions of Jean-Paul Sartre's wisdom

Both films are incredibly powerful in their own rights. While the 1996 version is a masterpiece in its ability to show the serious social dilemma of rampant, unprincipled persecution, the 1957 version is a work of genius by describing an entire philosophy in a two hour movie. Both are worth the time to view.