Thursday, January 17, 2013

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954) Review

Nineteen Eighty-Four 1954 poster
Director: Rudolph Cartier
Stars: Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence, Yvonne Mitchell, Andre Morell
Genre: Science Fiction

An adaptation of George Orwell's classic novel, 1984, this made-for-television feature starring Peter Cushing was broadcast on the BBC in 1954. It is the second film adaptation of the novel, the first one airing on CBS the year before.

The film stays very truthful to the novel, following Winston Smith (Cushing) in a dystopian state and his rebellions against Big Brother.

I was surprised just how truthful this stayed to the source material. It runs at nearly two hours long and it manages to capture just about everything. Even the characters are pretty spot on. Obviously it isn't as thawed out or well paced as the novel is, or even as good as the novel is for that matter, but it was a very impressive effort and what it did it did well. 

I will say that for those watching this without having read the novel it might be a tad confusing, being that not everything is explained as well visually as the novel does with words, but for the most part it's pretty straight forward. It does some scenes very well; I particularly liked [Spoiler:] the scene when Winston and Julia are captured, I thought that was very well done. Other scenes were a bit lacking; the torture scene sufficed but I felt it could have been much better; it definitely lacked the intensity of the novel.

Noteworthy actors here include Peter Cushing, of Hammer fame. This predates his work with Hammer and horror and science fiction films, and not only was this film his first leading role, it's also the first film of the genre he's become so well known for, including of course horror. He does a wonderful job here as Winston Smith.

Donald Pleasence also has a role here as Syme. This was one of his first acting jobs before he went on to have a very successful career in film, and he does very well here. Yvonne Mitchell plays Julia and, for the most part, does a good job though at times it seemed as if she was stumbling over her lines. Andre Morell plays O'Brien and I though his performance was a bit lackluster. At times he did a great job but overall I just felt that his acting wasn't very good; he also didn't fit the image of O'Brien I had in my head.

Donald Pleasence and Peter Cushing in Nineteen Eighty-Four 1954

It was directed by Rudolph Cartier, one of the finest television directors of the time, whom was known for his many collaborations with Nigel Kneale. The two are perhaps best known for their creation of the classic science fiction serial The Quatermass Experiment, and they do a fine job here as well.

Composer John Hotchkis delivers an excellent score. The incidental soundtrack fits the film very well. 

The film was performed live on television (as many were during those days, known as teleplays) and the first play which aired on December 12, 1954 is not the one I am reviewing, but rather the second live performance (and nearly identical) of it from December 16, as it is the version which is more common.

The film caused quite a bit of controversy when it originally aired, with many viewers calling in and complaining about the "subversive nature and horrific content" (I guess no one read the book). Of course by today's standards the film is a bit more tame, though, just as with the novel, its message and warning are chilling as ever.

Big Brother Nineteen Eighty-Four 1954

It's a very solid 1984 adaptation and I can easily recommend it to 1984 fans, Peter Cushing fans, 50s sci-fi fans, and fans of early television broadcasts. Definitely a very under-appreciated piece of work.

3.5/5 stars

Purchase 1984 on Amazon: DVD (or this) - YouTube
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