Sidney Kingsley's dramatic adaptation of Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon" has finally come to Boston after a successful year in New York. Somewhere between Broadway and the Colonial Theater, Edward G. Robinson has assumed the major role of Rubashov, played by Claude Raines in the New York production. Many critics have considered Raines' portrayal of the old Bolshevik as his greatest role, but it would be difficult to improve upon the provable, disheartened, tragic Rubashov which Robinson creates.
In the first place, Robinson has just the face and physique for the part. He typifies the Russian revolutionary of the old Lenin school. His face is very impressionable, with small slanting eyes and high Mongolian cheekbones. His short, refund body, with a slight lunch to the shoulders, suggests a great emotional and moral force. He has a gray, wrinkled complexion which tells the mixed story of his life laughter and story-telling around a campfire with the rebelling crew of the Battleship Potemkin combined with the anger and frustration of being a political prisoner of Nazi Germany.
The plot is quite simple. An old man, once a leader of the Russian revolution, is arrested during the Communist purge trials of 1937, and his prosecutor uses terrifying intimidation to get a confession from him. Rubashov was one of the hundreds of old Bolsheviks whose deviation from the Stalinist "means justifies the end" philosophy meant certain death. His final hours are occupied by a challenge--he must decide between a silent, unobserved death, which would follow a confession for many crimes he did not commit, or death after a trial where he could speak out heroically against the new Bolshevism. He chose the former. Thus, Rubashov's death was a great tragedy, since it resulted from moral and intellectual capitulation.
Rubashov's prosecutor is Gletkin, played by Leo Gordon. In the book, Koestler successfully implied that Gletkin was unimportant in Rubashov's life, that the prosecutor was only a piece of complicated Stalinist machinery--inflexible, inhuman, and moral. However, in the Kingsley play, Gordon's steel-like portrayal was awkward and overplayed. Lois Nettleton took the part of Rubashov's mistress and secretary, and was quite persuasive in proving her loyalty to the old man.
Frederick Fox's scenery was extremely effective. The Russian prison looked dark and formidable, and three tiers of cells were erected on the stage. The cell walls were made of a material which would become transparent with the use of lights, so that flash-backs, showing Rubashov moving from his 1937 cell directly to a pre-Revolutionary meeting, could occur without changing scenery or lowering the curtains.
"Darkness at Noon" is more than good artistic entertainment. It cleverly tells the philosophic story of modern Soviet justice, "when the means become the end and darkness comes over the land."