Thursday, September 9, 2010

1948: Hamlet

"To be or not to be?" blond Laurence Olivier wonders as he sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean.  "That is the question."  The answer is clearly "not to be," since in this, as in most of Shakespeare's tragedies, almost all the principle characters are killed.  And they all died tragically ever after.  The end.

Hamlet, as his name suggests, is a role for hams.  While Olivier's portrayal of the title character is not nearly as melodramatic as some I've seen (cough, Kenneth Branagh, cough cough), to call it a tad over-the-top would not be untrue.  Still, overall, this film was better than I expected.  It's long and it drags a bit, but that's Hamlet for you.  I really liked the way a lot of the shots were framed, and I especially liked the camera movement.  Those, combined with the soundtrack and the fog machines, created the mood more than anything the actors did.  But all in all, the performances were good, though the casting choices were a bit odd.

For instance, the actress who plays Queen Gertrude was significantly younger than Laurence Olivier, who plays her son.  Jean Simmons, who plays Ophelia, was significantly younger than everyone else, so although she gives a delightfully haunting performance, she always seems out of place.  The actor who plays Polonius wasn't actually that old, but he seems like he's about 85 or 90.  I'm guessing this was acting, but I wonder why he played it that way, when Jean Simmons was supposed to be his daughter, and she seemed young enough to be his great-granddaughter.  It's no big deal when Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius, because he looked like he was going to die of old age soon anyway.

I was incredibly disappointed that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were eliminated from this version, since they provide the comic relief that this story desperately needs.  I was very glad, however, that the whole Young Fortinbras storyline was omitted, because I never thought it was necessary.  I think the problem is I've seen too many versions of Hamlet, so I couldn't watch this film without comparing it to the others.  Still, it was better than I expected, for the most part.

Next: All the King's Men

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