Robin D. Blakeman | New Haven, CT United States | 07/17/2003
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I was excited to see this dvd available - I saw the play a couple of times in the late '60's and loved it. Unfortunately this hoked-up film version does the play no justice. Taking the play from its platform/ramp/stairs stage setting and placing it into a 'real' ghost town waters down the suspense of the piece - in fact, more than waters down, obliterates it. The stage convention of using the same actor for the judge of the murder trial and the local hell 'n brimstone preacher doesn't work on film. On film, not only does it not make any point about justice - it is simply confusing. The trial and mystery of who-did-what-to-whom-and-why seems less than important. The actual film itself is poor quality - grainy and grey-ed out.
Good aspects are a terrific performance by Rue McClanahan and the actors portraying the young protagonists. Susan Sarandon does an admirable job for a woman about fifteen years too old for the role. Frances Sternhagen must have a good agent to get billing in this version - she has about five lines...and not even juicy ones.
What a disappointment this film is! I so wish they had just filmed a first rate stage performance instead of trying to turn it into a 'movie'."
"You shoulda seen it when the mines were running!"
Mary Whipple | New England | 09/16/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Living in Eldritch, a nearly abandoned Bible Belt town which was formerly a center of coal-mining, the remaining residents are hard-pressed to find much to do, other than to gossip about each other and attend church activities run by the hell-fire-and-damnation preacher. Anyone who is different from the norm is ostracized--a senile old woman, the town derelict living in a shack, the woman who runs a café and who is apparently having an affair with a much younger man. The young men who remain in Eldritch ride around in trucks, race their cars, and look for easy sex. The attempted rape of an innocent young girl and the murder of a derelict become the events which trigger the "action."
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lanford Wilson, in this early play from 1966, creates a mood of high tension through a series of scenes which move back and forth through time. The dialogue between the characters overlaps, cutting from the town gossips to passionate excoriations by the preacher, tender love scenes between two very young teenagers, the heavily sex-laden conversations of café-owner Cora and the young man she hires to work and to share her bed, and the murder "trial" conducted by the preacher, who dominates the town.
Though the play itself lacks a central set, Davey Marlin-Jones, director of this vibrant 1974 Broadway Theatre Archive production, takes advantage of the video possibilities by actually showing the town's abandoned and dilapidated buildings, the wasteland of the landscape, and the reality of the emptiness. As the camera pans and then fades from one scene to another, the isolation of Eldritch and the claustrophobia of living there add drama and intensity, while the lack of chronology keeps the tone of the play impressionistic.
Susan Sarandon, as a flighty young girl anxious to get married, Rue McClanahan as lusty Cora, and Frances Sternhagen in a small role as one of the town gossips, star in this large cast of seventeen characters, all beautifully acted. The play transcends its 1960s setting, and the contrasts--between the moral bankruptcy of the residents and their churchly commitments, between the town's beliefs about the murder and rape and the reality of these crimes, and between the innocence of young Robert and Eva (James Staley and Carol Williard) and the sexual experience of café-owner Cora and her lover (Rue McClanahan and Clifford Pellow)--create a dramatic intensity that is rare in modern theatre. Many viewers will find this adaptation of Wilson's play even stronger than the stage production. n Mary Whipple