Re: 1984

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films
Date: Saturday, November 08, 1997 8:31 PM

P.J. Gladnick <> wrote in article
> You have probably seen the color version of 1984 with Richard Burton but
> there was also a b&w version made in the 1950s with (I think) Edmund
> O'Brien which is supposed to be better. Unfortunately it is unavailable in
> video and, for some reason, is not broadcast on TV.

The 1956 version of "1984" did star Edmond O'Brien as Winston Smith; owing to the actor's surname, the name of his adversary, named O'Brien in George Orwell's book, became O'Connor for that screen version.

The Orwell Estate has control of the film and have had it suppressed, being unhappy with it. A spokesperson 13 years ago stated that there had been a lot of offers then to run the 1956 version in theaters and on television, particularly for showings December 31 (New Years Eve), 1983; they didn't happen.

Being among the few people who've seen the 1956 "1984" in the last 15 years, I'll state sadly that this version is meek. The settings look ordinary, not bleak, drab or futuristic. The illicit love affair of the story has been neutered to lose its sense of the forbidden. Explicit discussion of Big Brother's objectives, philosophy, and even methods, are avoided.

The 1984 version of "1984" is far more faithful to the source. Even the tricky matter of presenting the ideological tract of Goldberg--the book that influences Winston--is conveyed by succinct voiceover and by montage.  Big Brother comes across as evil. London looks as though it has been at war for decades--which is how a film version should make it appear. A range of visual techniques is employed.

> BTW, since we had a discussion about the political satire of the WIZARD OF
> OZ, it may interest you to know that 1984 was actually a satire of Soviet
> communism. Big Brother was, of course, Joseph Stalin. Goldstein was Leon
> Trotsky. There were also characters in the book who were purged that were
> based on Kamenev and Zinoviev of the Politburo who were also purged. …

Orwell's earlier novel "Animal Farm" also examined and denounced communism by characters that parallel Soviet figures. Trotsky was portrayed by the scapegoat pig chased away early in the novel. (A cartoon feature-length movie of the book was released in 1954.)

Oddly enough, 16mm prints of the 1956 "1984" have turned up for sale a few times in the collectors' magazines. Considering that there are no mass-market consumer editions of the film, it's surprising that the prints have been offered for around $275 (a price comparable to desirable--but otherwise available--titles on 16mm).

David Hayes


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