Sunday, January 21, 2007

1948 Hamlet

Stars: Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Terence Morgan

It goes without saying that one expects great things from a production of the Bard, but also one featuring the acting pedigree of Laurence Olivier. And he does not disappoint.

Olivier both acted and directed this movie version of the great play, for which he was rewarded with a Best Actor Oscar, as well as the Best Movie for 1948. Critics were harsh when scenes involving Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were cut, and other such notable scenes, but realistically, it is a long play at best, and ancilliary action can be removed to not bore the audience to tears.

I am no great afficionado of productions of Shakespeare, and will happily admit that I may understand possibly only every second line of his verse. But when presented, without the hamming that it can obviously inspire, humbles this observer to understand more than I thought possible. And even moves me in ways I didn’t expect. Until now, the “Alas poor Yorick” speech and even “To be, or not to be”, seemed to be those soliloquies that every two bit actor has played around with – but never truly grasped. But, I felt Hamlet’s suffering in his questioning and his grappling of internal demons. Should one end one’s life, just to stop the pain of living?

Some of the camera work, and hence, direction, confused me. Long, stark views of stone cold walls, with no characters in play, seemed oddly tiresome. But apparently this was considered cutting edge, in the vein of Orson Welles-ian The final scenes leading to Hamlet’s burial seemed quite tedious. The sets, like many “modern” productions brought to the stage, were bare, perhaps forcing one’s eye to the actors themselves. Of course, in Elizabethan times, this may have been the mode of presentation, but personally, it is an artistic device best used sparingly – or not at all.

Ophelia, played by the gorgeous Jean Simmons, was magical and her beauty on the screen helped underscore her sad demise into madness. Finally the swordsmanship by Olivier and Laertes was truly inspiring. It seemed not so much choreographed, as actually, fought with true grit, grace and emotion.


Anonymous Becka said...

Good words.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008 8:37:00 am  
Blogger meva said...

I remember watching this as a midday movie, many years ago. Jean Simmons was gorgeous but a bit daft, floating down the river on a bed of weeds. Larry, on the other hand, looked fab in a peroxide beatle wig as he burbled on about his uncles ghost!

Friday, November 28, 2008 11:26:00 pm  

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