Man Must Engage His Freedom and Commit Himself to Something: A Study in Existentialism Part 8 (1961)



Dirty Hands (French: Les Mains sales) is a play by Jean-Paul Sartre. It was first performed on 2 April 1948 at the Theatre Antoine in Paris, directed by Pierre Valde and starring François Périer, Marie Olivier and André Luguet.

A political drama set in the fictional country of Illyria between 1943 and 1945, the story is about the assassination of a leading politician. The story is told mainly in the form of a flashback, with the killer describing how he carried out his mission. The killer’s identity is established from the beginning, but the question is whether his motivations were political or personal. Thus, the play’s main theme is not on who did it but on why it was done.

World War II has a lot to do with this play and how it was written. Illyria (also the location of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night) was presumably based upon Hungary. The ‘Parti Proletarian’ is the communist party to which most of the main characters in the story belong. They are fighting for “une société sans classes” (“a classless society”). The other two parties mentioned in this play are the Regent’s Fascist government which supports Germany and the ‘Pentagone’ which is made up of the middle classes.

Hungary at that time was ruled by a Regent, Miklós Horthy who appointed Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös in 1932. Gömbös wanted to co-operate with Nazi Germany, and, although this ended Hungary’s depression, it made it economically dependent on Germany. The Hungarian government supported the policies and goals of Nazi Germany.

In 1938, the new Prime Minister, Kálmán Darányi, decided to make his new policies very pro-Germany and pro-Italy, a bit like how Hoederer wanted to join with the other parties to try to evolve as a country and stay on everyone’s good side to get his own party’s point across.

Les mains sales is primarily based on the theme of existentialism which Sartre espoused, but many have taken it as a straightforward political drama. Right-wingers welcomed it as anti-communist, and left-wingers attacked it for the same reason. When the Dirty Hands was released in France in 1951 Communists threatened the cinemas showing it. In fact the play itself was not re-staged in France until 1976.

The play was not staged in a socialist state until November 1968 when it was shown in Prague after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by fellow Warsaw Pact forces.

Underlying the critics’ response to Les mains sales is the extent to which it is a play too rooted in themes of politics and existentialism, and whether, as a consequence, it becomes inaccessible for the average spectator.

Non-French versions of the play have had other titles, including Dirty Hands, The Assassin, Red Gloves and Crime Passionnel.

In 1982, the play was performed at the Greenwich Theatre in London under the title of The Assassin, starring Edward Woodward and Michele Dotrice.[1] It was performed again later in 2000 in Britain under the title of The Novice, starring Jamie Glover as Hugo and Kenneth Cranham as Hoederer.[2] The director of this performance, Richard Eyre, intended to raise conflicting differences in contemporary British political life, such as the Northern Ireland peace process or the Old and New factions of Britain’s Labour Party government.[3] In 2017, the play was adapted by Leopold Benedict for the Pembroke Players, under the title of Dirty Hands: A Brexistential Crisis, to comment on the politics of the post-Brexit era.[4]

The Just Assassins (original French title: Les Justes, more literal translations would be The Just or The Righteous) is a 1949 play by French writer and philosopher Albert Camus.

The play is based on the true story of a group of Russian Socialist-Revolutionaries who assassinated the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich in 1905, and explores the moral issues associated with murder and terrorism. In the play, all but one (Stepan) of the “Justes” are based upon historical terrorists, described in Memoirs of a Terrorist by Boris Savinkov.

The play was the basis for the 1983 Mexican film Bajo la metralla, directed by Felipe Cazals.[2]

The 2017 Telugu (Indian) movie Raktham – The Blood directed by Rajesh Touchriver is also an adaptation of this Albert Camus play.[3]

The original production of Les Justes was directed by Paul Œttly and first released on December 15, 1949.

Maria Casarès as Dora Doulebov
Michèle Lahaye as the Grand Duke
Serge Reggiani as Ivan Kaliayev
Michel Bouquet as Stepan Fedorov
Yves Brainville as Boris Annenkov
Jean Pommier as Alexis Voinov
Paul Œttly [fr] as Skouratov
Moncorbier as Foka
Louis Perdoux as Prison Guard

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