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forgive the fevered criticism but the fervor of the crucible infects .
set in 1692 at salem , massachusetts , the crucible opens with a group of teenage girls passionately singing and dancing around a boiling cauldron in the middle of a forest under the glow of a full moon .
they beckon the names of men as the targets of their love spells .
then one of the girls lets her hair down and sheds her clothes .
not to be outdone in her quest to regain the attention of john proctor ( daniel day lewis ) , abigail ( winona ryder ) suddenly seizes a chicken , beats it against the ground and smears her face and lips with the fresh blood .
taking even adolescent hormone surges into account , surely this chicken-bashing bit is a bit excessive , especially for prim puritan sensibilities ?
surely to the puritan eye this is as close to a coven of witches as it gets ?
the crucible errs from the beginning and arthur miller's name should be summoned for blame here for the addition of the above scene to his screen adaptation of his play .
this is far from a harmless event , a bad start to an already shaky morality tale .
the play describes the film's opening scene during tense exchanges that makes one wonder about the veracity of both accusation and reply , and this adds to the play's charged atmosphere .
in the film , the opening scene becomes an unintentional pandora's box .
not only is credulity stretched but abigail's obsession is unfortunately spotlighted .
it positions the crucible more as a cautionary fable about obsessive and malevolent women than against witch hunts ; it will bring back the memory of a rabbit boiling away in a pot .
not surprisingly , the nighttime forest frenzy does not go unnoticed and when two girls fail to wake the following morning , witches are invoked by those eager to blame .
when the girls are questioned , their confession of guilt is accompanied with an announcement of their return to god and they are thereafter converted to immaculate witnesses , led lustfully by abigail .
with alarming synchronicity our hormonally-advantaged girls zealously gesture and point accusing fingers at innocents , constant reminders that abigail's passion sets all this into inexorable motion .
abigail seizes on this opportunity to rid herself of her rival for john proctor's love , his wife elizabeth ( joan allen ) , by including her among those accused of witchcraft .
appropriately narrow-waisted and equipped with a distractingly white smile ( watch his teeth deteriorate much too quickly to a murky yellow ) , day lewis plays the dashing moral hero with an over-earnestness that longs to be watched .
director nicholas hytner is guilty of encouraging day lewis' foaming-mouth fervour with shots where we stare up at proctor as if he was mounted on a pedestal for our admiration .
otherwise , hytner's direction is unremarkable .
ryder's performance as abigail is as consistent as her mood swings .
her fits of frenzy are energetic enough but the quieter moments are less successful .
abigail supposedly revels in her newfound power , but ryder fails at being convincingly haughty although there is much haughtiness to spare here .
paul scofield is fine as the overzealous judge danforth , but the incessant moral posturings of all the characters along with the recurrent histrionics of the young girls pricks at the nerves .
probably because she is the only refuge of restraint amidst all the huffing and puffing , allen's elizabeth comes out as the most sympathetic character .
a scene near the end featuring a private conversation between the imprisoned elizabeth and john is undeniably powerful because for once we are given a reprieve from the moral bantering and the human consequences are revealed .
unfortunately , when john's audience again increases to more than one his urge to pontificate returns and the human urgency of his situation is lost .
it is clear that miller meant well but i do wish he did it with more delicacy and fewer diversions .
his screenplay is an imperfect creature with the distractions coming out as loud as the message .
the result is a clumsy muddle - i felt like the chicken from the opening scene , head ceaselessly banged with piousness too heavy-handed to be wholly believable .
when the gallows beckoned , it was sweet release indeed .
far from bewitching , the crucible tests the patience .