(1956 Drama / Science Fiction)

1984 US poster artwork

STARRING: Edmond O'Brien (Winston Smith), Michael Redgrave (O'Connor), Jan Sterling (Julia), David Kossoff (Charrington), Mervyn Johns (Jones), Donald Pleasence (R. Parsons), Carol Wolveridge (Selina Parsons), Ernest Clark (Outer Party Announcer), Patrick Allen (Inner Party Official), and Michael Ripper (Outer Party Orator)

DIRECTOR: Michael Anderson
SCREENPLAY: William P. Templeton and Ralph Bettinson (based on the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell)
PRODUCER: N. Peter Rathvon

United Kingdom

90 minutes

Black and White

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Edmond O'Brien tries to calm Donald Pleasence

A review by THE TIMES

O'Brien and Jan SterlingFrom the point of view of the conventional film-maker, the two least important factors in George Orwell's 1984 are the most attractive. They are the love affair between Winston Smith and Julia and the physical torments suffered by Winston in the cellars of the Ministry of Love, while the best things in the novel---indeed perhaps the best pieces of satirical writing Orwell ever accomplished---Goldstein treatise and the appendix called "The Principles of Newspeak," are obviously unfilmable.

What is more, it can hardly be expected that the screen hero will closely resemble Winston, who is 39 years old, suffers from varicose veins, and has five false teeth, or that the frank lasciviousness of Julia will be given its proper emphasis. A certain degree of prettifying and distorting can be forgiven so long as the film preserves intact the essence of Orwell's warning and grasps the importance of what he has to say.

1984 makes the unforgivable mistake of providing an ending that cuts clean across Orwell's savage purpose, and the love-affair is injected with the kind of synthetic idealism on which the cinema thrives, but there are, after all, 90 minutes of the film and it has a right to protest against being damned on account of three or four. Pleasence and O'Brien drink at the bar Mr. Michael Anderson's direction lacks that inspiration which would perform the miracle of making Orwell's ideas and expression as imaginative and convincing on the screen as they are in print, but at least he strives honestly for the greater part of the time and is not afraid of the sombre, the sober, approach to a sombre and sober project. Mr. Edmond O'Brien, as Winston, is allowed to be a prosaic character bewildered into incipient rebellion and the only trouble is that his actions and behaviour are revealing enough to ensure that he would be picked up by the Thought Police in the first reel. O'Brien---called, for some reason, O'Connor---bears little resemblance to to the O'Brien of the book. Mr. Michael Redgrave substitutes an impassiveness of manner and personality for the mild, civilized ironies of which Orwell's O'Brien was capable, but O'Connor is not altogether deprived of O'Brien's arguments and approach. Miss Jan Sterling has not much chance with Julia, but there is a wealth of subtlety in Mr. David Kossoff's portrait of the owner of the antique shop.

The end forgotten, though not forgiven, this version of 1984 is not without merits to balance the weaknesses, if indeed it is fair to call a failure to render into cinematic terms the principles of double-think and Newspeak by so condemning a word.

From the March 1, 1956 edition of THE TIMES.

Review 1956 THE TIMES. All Rights Reserved.


Above photo courtesy of Tim Murphy


Poster artwork 1956 COLUMBIA PICTURES. All Rights Reserved.

Title and logo designed by Karen Rappaport