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I finally was able to see this film, having seen the 1984 version with John Hurt when I was in college. I recall the 1984 version having some good production values, but I remember being disappointed also. This version was well-cast, and the art direction was also competent. Edmund O'Brien turned in a great performance as Winston Smith. I think that he brought a great quality of desperation to the role; which seemed to run contrary to John Hurt's performance. I'm sure there was a lot left out of the book. But I get tired of hearing people moan and groan about the argument of literature vs. cinema. Come on people, film is time-based, and can't digress like novels can. The screenwriter/director mainly extracts plot points, and can't be bothered with too much exposition (unless of course they have a whopping budget!). I've read many criticisms where more skeptical viewers complain that we don't get to know Big Brother's motives, strategy, etc... What?!! It's Big Brother - an enigmatic and probably non-existent despot....you're not supposed to know his whole story! The love affair, although brief, is very empathetic. In lieu of all the paranoia, Big Brother-cheerleading, etc. - the love between Winston and Julia is a good emotional oasis. Even though I watched a poor copy of this version, it really did make an impression. One of the few criticisms I have is Room 101. I thought the rat shot/scene was truncated, and could've been dramatized more. That's where the John Hurt version trumps this one.
Dingy, atmospheric version of George Orwells tale concerning two citizens of the New World Order involved in illicit, illegal love. Nothing is pretty in this story, and perhaps O'Brian and Sterling are a bit long in the tooth for the characters the author had in mind, however the superb dramatizations overcome any casting mishaps. The story of life in a totalitarian society rings chillingly familiar today. And, in the conclusion, to quote the poet laureate of our times, Todd Rundgren "Winston Smith Takes it on the Jaw Again!"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In a recent review of Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil,' I confidently referred
to the film as a "weird, twisted, fantastical tale of the sheer
absurdity of an Orwellian society." In all honesty, at that time, I
wasn't even certain of what constituted an "Orwellian" society, since I
had never read the novel, and was only repeating fragments which I had
extracted from other sources. Not more than three weeks ago, I decided
to finally get my hands on George Orwell's famous dystopian story to
see what it was all about, and was somewhat surprised to discover that
it was one of the most engaging pieces of literature I had ever read.
Eager to find out how the film adaptations treated Orwell's themes, I
immediately tracked down copies of Michael Radford's timely version
(released in 1984), as well as Michael Anderson's harder-to-find
'1984,' released in 1956.
Michael Anderson's '1984' was not, in fact, the first adaptation of George Orwell's novel, following a 1954 BBC television Sunday Night Theatre broadcast, which I've heard is phenomenal. I had expected that a 1950s adaptation would sugarcoat some of the novel's darker and more pessimistic themes, and yet I was pleasantly surprised to find that screenwriters Ralph Gilbert Bettison and William Templeton have followed Orwell's story quite closely. Edmond O'Brien plays Winston Smith, a lowly member of the Outer Party at the Ministry of Truth, where he works every day at "revising" history to correspond with Big Brother's most recent declarations. Winston secretly harbours a resentment towards Big Brother and his totalitarian government, a crime that is punishable by death should he be observed by the all-powerful Thought Police. However, Winston is not alone, and he soon discovers that the beautiful young Julia (Jan Sterling) also shares his reservations, and the two strike up a romantic relationship, meeting in locations without surveillance and always toying with the risk of capture.
Inevitably, both are arrested by the dictatorial government, and Winston falls into the hands of Gen. O'Connor (changed from O'Brien in the novel, possibly to avoid the name clash with the film's main star), played by Michael Redgrave. Slowly but surely, O'Connor sets about destroying Winston's will, persisting with his torturous punishment, not only until Winston obeys Big Brother, but until he loves him. An alternative ending reportedly had Winston and Julia screaming "Down with Big Brother" as they fell before the firing squad, a conclusion that I suspect would have infuriated George Orwell. Fortunately, the version I saw stayed much truer to the spirit of the novel, ending with a "rehabilitated" Winston proclaiming his genuine love for the almighty leader. There is also a brief, ten-second epilogue in which the narrator practically spells out the film's moral as if it wasn't clear enough already but this minor slip-up is easily forgiven.
The performances in the film are very well done. Edmond O'Brien does not look how I had originally pictured Winston Smith perhaps a bit plumper than expected but he did an excellent job, most impressive in the scenes of his torture. There is one brilliant long-take in which we see O'Connor pacing back and forth across the screen, periodically holding up four fingers and trying to convince Winston that there are five. Winston, pictured on a television monitor behind O'Connor, vigilantly maintains that "two and two equals four," before the latter's persistent torture finally breaks him. The acting here from both parties is sublime, and we can really feel the agony that poor Winston is enduring. Also notable is actor Donald Pleasence, who plays R. Parsons, an average workman who is hopelessly devoted to the Party and its leader, even after he is arrested for alleged thought-crimes.
Perhaps one of the few complaints that I can make about the film is how Room 101 was dealt with. Though I was most impressed with O'Brien's acting during this sequence, it was all over much too quickly to be effective, and we don't even see a thing, treated only to the frantic squeaks of a mass of hungry rodents. Whilst it is often true that the less the audience sees the better, here didn't seem to be one of those moments, and the whole scene would have worked much better, in my view, had we been subjected to what Winston could see; to be face-to-face with "the worst thing in the world." Other than this, I can certainly recommend '1984' for its fine treatment of a challenging piece of dystopian literature. This one is well worth tracking down.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After wanting to see this movie for about three decades and after
teaching the book for almost two, I finally found a copy recently and
was surprised by two things: 1) how surprisingly faithful this movie is
at times, even more so in certain parts than the definitive 1984
version; and 2) just how painful it is to watch something that
bowdlerizes a story you're intimately familiar with.
On the one hand, the 1956 version gets the larger picture of Orwell's dystopia completely wrong. Much like the BBC version of two years previously, the movie ignores Orwell's descriptions of Airstrip One as a ruined and war-torn version of London for the most part, and such places as the Ministry of Truth and the canteen look like every other 50s sci-fi movie's version of the 1980s. (They even change Goldstein's name to something futuristic-sounding and unmemorable, though they may have been to avoid any hint of anti-Semitism.) No wonder Orwell's widow hated it so.
It's also no surprise that both Julia and O'Brien (oops, sorry, it's O'Connor here, probably because of the lead actor's name being too close to O'Brien) are able to spot Winston as different: Edmund O'Brien plays Winston not as an intellectual stuck in a society antithetical to intellectual thought but as a bit of a gormless idiot, a man who has to be told repeatedly "That photo does not exist. Yes, that one in your hand. Yes, THAT one. It doesn't exist. What, are you deaf?" It's hard to imagine THIS Winston Smith lasting for very long in the actual novel, let alone the 1984 version of the movie. This Winston is also enough of an idiot to believe that the steely, vaudeville villain-eqsue O'Connor could ever be sympathetic - though, to be fair, that's more to do with Michael Redgrave deciding to play the part without an ounce of subtlety, and neither movie does a decent job of explaining why Winston trusts O'Brien in the first place. Of the three actors to play this part, it's definitely Burton first, then André Morell, then Redgrave far in the rear. And don't even get me started about trying to do a movie in the 50s about a society trying to abolish the orgasm...
And yet the movie gets some bits absolutely right. Winston's visit to O'Brien's quarters, unlike the similar visit in the later version, includes Julia and includes her objection to O'Connor's suggestion that they may someday have to separate. (All these years, I thought that scene occurred in the later version, too, but rewatching it the other night revealed that it doesn't.) It also gets some of the broader strokes right, too: I hadn't expected the Two Minute Hate to work so well in this futuristic setting, nor to have the torture scenes make any sense. Still, give me the later version anyday over this one. This is definitely your grandfather's 1984, not Orwell's.
I saw the movie once back in 1968 or so and thought it was great. Don't know how I'd view it now but I have never had any desire to see the remake. The fact that the movie is in black and white still leaves a very visual impression of the stark, bare lives people like Winston Smith led. No color in their lives and certainly no color in their thoughts was the order of their day. I think the film captured that along with the idea that their technology available was also unenlightening. It served only one purpose and that was to control. I don't think I would be as impressed if the movie were made today. Our technology is too sophisticated. In the original version, less is more.
I heard about this film version of Orwell's classic novel many years
ago . In the Radio Times to celebrate the year of the setting did a
large piece feature on the BBC TV adaptation from 1954 and the film
version of 1956 starring Edmund O Brien and looked forward to seeing
the BBC showing either version . The problem was that due to copyright
issues by the Orwell estate there was no way either adaptation could be
broadcast , instead the closest the BBC could do was broadcast a
narrated version of the book for the Book For Bedtime slot
In truth this version is hardly waiting for . There are some very good aspects to it . Best is the directing from Michael Anderson . I know Anderson is hated in some circles for " Having no love for the Sci-fi genre " but I've never had a problem . LOGAN'S RUN and THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES whilst not being classics of the genre are okay movies . Perhaps the problem might be that his films don't have too much of a futuristic look . Certainly he could thrown a massive spanner in the works by making everything look too futuristic which would have been a disaster . Here we see something recognisable as being both contemporary and futuristic which means nothing is too dated watching in 2012
The good points are however outweighed by the bad . Orwell's novel is unfilmable and only Nigel Kneale's teleplay despite being freely adapted does capture the feel and subtext of the original while this version doesn't . Instead the storytelling concentrates heavily on the romantic doomed love affair between Winston and Julia so much so it becomes more of a love story set in a communist tyranny rather than being about the failures of Marxism when it becomes hijacked by tyranny . It's certainly not a complex or sophisticated film and the ending has nothing in common with the novel
The casting certainly doesn't help . You want an everyman type of actor playing the everyman character from the novel ? Well who worse than Edmund O Brien a very effective actor playing rough diamond types in film noir classics but hopelessly miscast here along with Jan Sterling who'd also be equally at home in a crime drama . Michael Redgrave is good enough in his role but gives an inferior performance if you've seen the 1954 BBC version with Andre Morell . It doesn't help that he's called O Connor which is another distraction as is the name change for Goldstein
I can't say I was too disappointed by this film version . I went in not expecting much and came out of it having not seen much . Orwell was a writer who didn't make filmable novels and this is yet another film adaptation that once again proves it .
......is even better (wanna see St. Pete's classic? Feel free to contact email@example.com for a copy). One might be tempted to call this a remake, and I suppose it is, but it was the first theatrical rendition, enabling audiences to watch Big Brother (watching them) on a bigger screen than was possible via the BBC/Peter Cushing version (1954) of two years earlier. I agree with previous commentator "bux's" observance that, while Edmond O'Brien and Jan Sterling may not have been Orwell's first casting choices for Winston and Julia for the reason stated, the sterling performances generated by the leads and their supporting cast more than compensate. As a huge fan of the late, great Hammer Films luminary Michael Ripper, I was especially pleased to see him helping to take up the rear as an Outer Party Orator, exemplifying the tender loving care with which producer N. Peter Rathvon saw fit to cast even the smaller roles.
It's been too long since I read the book, so I'm just concerned with
the movie as a movie. And what a downer the 90-minutes is for the
generally sunny 1950's. Hard to think of a grimmer storyline or more
downbeat ending for that period. I take the film's anomalous presence
as a useful Cold War commentary on the Soviet Union, the rivalry then
at its peak.
Anyhow, the sets are grim, even the one outdoor scene is drained of any natural beauty, while the photography remains dull gray, as it should be given the dystopian subject matter. Then too, the two leads, O'Brien and Sterling, are not exactly marquee names. However, they are excellent actors, as the storyline requiresyou don't want "movie stars" competing with the plot-heavy symbolism. In short, the production, though clearly economical, is pretty uncompromising.
Story-wise we're plunged into the middle of the dystopian society without much explanation of how it got that way or why. Instead, the narrative emphasizes the tools of thought control among Party members, who are subjected to all sorts of thought conditioning techniques, such as the histrionic hate sessions. Just how the non-party people live is not really portrayed. However, love may be forbidden among Party members, but I doubt that it was among the common people, otherwise how would re-population take place.
Besides dwelling on Winston's (O'Brien) efforts at contacting the political underground, the script dwells on the forbidden love affair between Winston and Julia (Sterling). And I had to laugh when Julia sheds her shapeless Party uniform for a flowing white gown right out of the Loretta Young Show of the time. This may be the movie's one concession to 1950's norms. The film does manage a few twists, one of which I didn't see coming. But, if I have one complaint, it's that Redgrave's high Party official lacks subtlety, in pretty much a one-note performance. This can be seen as a defect if you think about his official's changing roles.
Anyway, the film remains a visual oddity for then as well as now. However, its thought- control message, though crudely put, may be more relevant in our digitalized age than it was then. At the same time, this is one of the few subjects that I think needs a bigger budget remake to do it justice. I haven't seen the latest remake from 1984, so I can't comment on its worth. All in all, this version maintains a grimly narrow, but thought-provoking focus.
(In passinghaving seen the movie on first release, I seem to remember the "rat cage" sequence as being longer, more detailed with glowing eyes, and much scarier than my DVD version. But then that was well over 50-years ago.)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
*Also contains minor spoilers from the 84 version of 1984.*
"THIS IS A STORY OF THE FUTURE- NOT THE FUTURE OF SPACE SHIPS AND MEN FROM OTHER PLANETS- BUT THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE."
A sentence that stays on your screen for over 10 seconds as the film opens, just to ensure you get the idea that this is the future that could be near, in case you've missed the film's title 1984.
How could someone who's actually read the book think this is in anyway truthful to the it..? Visually, the Ministry of Truth looks like something off Star Trek, the canteen was ridiculous, seriously? Food tray coming out of a hole? "the girl with black hair" apparently was blonde, Winston is 40 pounds too heavy, and their strange overalls are so seldom shot in full length, I was under the impression that Winston was wearing a sports jacket most of the time.
The psychological aspect of the book was never shown through this film, Winston's fear of rats were explained so briefly that it was hideous, "Rat! A rat! it's the one thing I really hate" screams Winston after throwing the coral dome at the rat in the film. It's a phobia, you don't get up and throw things at it like anyone else would, in the book he went into shock, simply from the knowledge of one being near, started sweating and shivering. The sense of oppression and the idea that anyone could be watching was portrayed by a annoying short girl playing a member of the Junior Spies buzzing around Winston the whole time, a character that did not exist in the book. It's details like that which shows whoever made the film thought its audiences are too dumb to understand anything unless it's screamed at their faces.
I felt patronised throughout the film, and worst of all, the line at the end by the narrator "This is the story of the future, it could be the story of our children if we fail to preserve their heritage of freedom", I assume everyone who's written the reviews of this film wrote it when internet had been invented? Or when IMDb has been established? Maybe this film was relevant in the 50s, but viewing it now? It's a blatant piece of propaganda that grants very little credit as an adaptation to a great book. It's taken everything that's intellectual from the book, filtered it so that the only message left is "this is what's going to happen if the Russians win", they should really have played God Save the Queen through the credits.
Like someone else has pointed out, this is your overly patriotic grandpa's version of 1984, not Orwell's.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is apparently the first movie version of the George Orwell book
"1984", though it was actually the second version overall--with a made
for BBC version coming out two years earlier. The first thing that
becomes apparent is how stark and minimalistic the production
looks--exactly the way it should look based on the book. This dystopia
is supposed to be colorless, lifeless and grim and the film succeeds.
And, the actors do a good job in keeping to the spirit of the story.
Instead of explaining the rather familiar plot, I'll point out a few ways that it differs from Orwell's book. One of the most obvious is de-sexualizing the relationship between Winston Smith and Juilia. Films back in 1956 could only imply sexuality and the fact that the film talked about the 'anti-sex league' is actually a bit surprising. The film a handles the scene where Smith betrays his lover is sanitized a bit--again, films in the 50s weren't about to be this graphic--and they would not show Smith with a rat cage strapped to his face! However, otherwise the film is pretty close to the book...apart from a totally unnecessary epilogue where the audience is admonished about the importance of freedom. Unnecessary, as unless you are a blithering idiot, you'll clearly get this message in the film! Very well made and I enjoyed it more than the much grimmer 1984 version with Richard Burton and John Hurt.
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