Ty Burr
June 27, 1997 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Its immediate status as video Cliff Notes notwithstanding, the movie version of Arthur Miller’s drama is a skillfully made but overly shrill hothouse. You could argue that there’s no other way to film an allegorical tale of Puritan-era hysteria — and to the credit of screenwriter Miller and director Nicholas Hytner (The Madness of King George), they’ve opened up the themes so that the paranoid witch finders of Salem seem as much motivated by fear of female sexuality as of independent thought (in which case, the brilliantly effective Winona Ryder may be too hissable as oversexed villainess Abigail Williams). Undeniably well filmed and acted, The Crucible is too beholden to Literature and History to implicate the modern-day audience as it should. The paradox is that if it did, even discriminating renters wouldn’t bother with it. B

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