Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema selection is the screen adaption of the prescient masterpiece, 1984. George Orwell’s novel was published in 1949.
The novel is set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public manipulation, dictated by a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (or Ingsoc in the government’s invented language, Newspeak) under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite that persecutes all individualism and independent thinking as “thoughtcrimes”. The tyranny is epitomized by Big Brother, the quasi-divine Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality, but who may not even exist.
The Screen: ‘1984’ Opens; Adaptation of Orwell’s Novel at Normandie
By A.H. WEILER
Published: October 1, 1956
IN running the gamut from novel to television and now, seven years after publication, to the screen, “1984,” the late George Orwell’s divination of a totalitarian world, has lost most of its terror but none of its awesome foreboding qualities.
Life is still frighteningly bleak in scientifically thought-controlled “Oceania.” But the drama of the two young lovers who attempt to ally themselves against the absolute ruling powers is fitfully projected and its impact is felt only in a crescendo-like climax. A disturbing fiction that shocked, startled and terrified its readers has been transformed in England into a stark, sober and thoughtful, if not altogether persuasive, film.
N. Peter Rathvon, its independent producer; Michael Anderson, his director and the scenarists have adapted the book “freely.” But they have retained its essential spirit and ideas in the film which came to the Trans-Lux Normandie on Saturday. Against backgrounds of bombed-out hulks of London buildings and studio settings of futuristic, electronic gadget-filled rooms, the story of Winston Smith, lowly worker in the “Ministry of Truth,” and Julia, also a “government” functionary, is unfolded. More important, London, as capital of “Airstrip One,” is typical of “Oceania,” one of the three sections of the world, the others being “Eastasia” and “Eurasia.”
Grim existence in “Airstrip One” is typified by posters of a supposed leader, “Big Brother,” who is constantly watching the elite, or “Inner Party” members; the nonelite party members of the “Outer Party” and the rank and file, the “proles” via microphones, television screens and the omnipresent spies and “thought police.” They all have been thoroughly schooled in the slogans, “War is Peace,” “Freedom Is Slavery” and “Ignorance Is Strength” and carefully calculated “hate” programs. Despite these soulkilling campaigns, it is Mr. Orwell’s and the film-makers’ contention that love and man’s unquenchable thirst for freedom will foster rebellion even in such a Utopia-in-reverse. The principals’ vain attempt to capture some moments of love in its present sense, as well as escape from totalitarianism via a so-called “underground” is brought to a sardonic ending, which, as has been noted, gives this drama its basic power. Brainwashing, in this particular instance, is illustrated in all of its lucid and degrading facets. One can understand it, which makes it all the more horrible.
Aside from the fact that the American accents of Edmond O’Brien and Jan Sterling clash with those of their English colleagues, they are forceful and pitiable as the lovers. Mr. O’Brien wins genuine sympathy in his climactic scene as a truly broken man who betrays his girl to save his skin only because of the inhuman pressures put upon him.
As the girl who decides to leave him finally, Jan Sterling is competently pallid, overwrought and anxious for her first taste of genuine affection from a fellow creature. Michael Redgrave is fine as the restrained but sinister Inner Party chief who exposes them. Though their roles are comparatively brief, David Kossoff, as a seemingly kindly old man, and Mervyn Johns and Donald Pleasance, turn in professional performances as victims of the times and circumstances.
Although “1984” points an ominous warning finger, it does not strike with all of its potential force. The corruptions of absolute power are made evident, but only occasionally do they come across realistically and dramatically.
1984; screen play by William P. Templeton and Ralph Bettinson; freely adapted from the novel of the same name by George Orwell; directed by Michael Anderson; produced by N. Peter Rathvon; a Holiday Film Production presented by Columbia Pictures. At the Trans-Lux Normandie.
Winston Smith . . . . . Edmund O’Brien
Julia . . . . . Jan Sterling
O’Connor . . . . . Michael Redgrave
David Kossoff, Donald Pleasance, Mervyn Johns, Carol Wolveridge, Ernst Clark, Patrick Allen, Ronan O’Casey, Michael Ripper, Ewen Solon and Kenneth Griffiths.
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