A View from the Bridge is one of Arthur Miller’s most famous plays, renowned for its intensity of passion and echoes of Greek tragedy.
The work grew out of Miller’s fascination with Red Hook, a Brooklyn neighborhood only a few blocks away from where he lived. He felt that it was an enigmatic place, disconnected from his own experiences in America. He spent a year researching the neighborhood, going to bars and visiting the docks to watch the longshoremen compete for their daily jobs. This research initially led him to collaborate with his friend the director Elia Kazan on a screenplay entitled The Hook. It was not made because it possessed an “anti-American attitude,” but both men were inspired by this cultural enclave.
Like his Crucible, A View from the Bridge was written at the height of anti-Communist hysteria. It is often seen as a response to Kazan’s informing on suspected communists in the industry to the House Un-American Activities Committee as well as his film On the Waterfront (1954) in which informing was seen as a moral act.
Miller wrote the first version in 1955. It was only one act, paired with A Memory of Two Mondays, and many of the speeches were written in free verse. In this version Eddie drags himself across the stage to die in Catherine’s arms and kisses her then for the first time. Reviews were mostly negative.
Hoping to run it through the critical press again, Miller decided to revise it so it would have a better place at the top of the bill. He added a second act, rendered the whole thing in prose, and changed Eddie’s death scene. The women’s characters were also expanded, the set design became more realistic, and the chorus was eliminated.
When he applied for a license from the Lord Chamberlain's Office to stage the play in England, he was told he needed to change the incestuous and homosexual aspects of the play. Unsurprisingly, Miller and his producers resented this censorship. They got around it by running it as a subscription-only private performance at the Comedy Centre in London. It premiered on October 11th, 1956, running for 220 performances. Reviews were positive, although a few critics preferred the one-act version. It was not censored in America, although the F.B.I. had an extensive file on Miller and considered the work anti-American.
Revivals of the two-act version have done extremely well. In 1965 an Off-Broadway version starred Robert Duvall and Jon Voight, running for 780 performances; this was Arthur Miller’s favorite staging. Other notable stagings included a 1987 version with Michael Gambon as Eddie and a 1995 version with Bernard Hill. The most current revival, which is critically acclaimed, is directed by Ivo van Hove and ran in London and on Broadway; it opens in Los Angeles in fall 2016.
In 1962 a film version was released. Miller’s friend Norman Rosten wrote the screenplay and eliminated a few scenes and Alfieri as narrator. It did not do well critically or commercially. It was also translated twice into an opera, once in 1961 and once in 1991.