Lear is an old man blind to his weaknesses. He decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters according to who recites the best declaration of love. Goneril and Regan pretend to ... See full summary »

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Cast overview:
Frederick Warde ...
Lorraine Huling ...
Wayne Arey ...
J.H. Gilmour ...
Hector Dion ...
Ernest C. Warde ...
Edwin Stanley ...
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Lear is an old man blind to his weaknesses. He decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters according to who recites the best declaration of love. Goneril and Regan pretend to love him but treat him cruelly. Cordelia is loyal but, confusing honesty with insolence, he disowns her. Written by Anonymous

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17 December 1916 (USA)  »

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Version of Omnibus: King Lear (1953) See more »

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Different Shakespeares
31 January 2010 | by See all my reviews

This adaptation of Shakespeare's "King Lear" is currently available in two different versions. The DVD from the Thanhouser Company Film Preservation is among a compilation of the films from the early Thanhouser production company. Its version of the film is a two and a half reels abridgement from the original five reels and runs approximately 36 minutes. The video was transferred from a print from the George Eastman House, perhaps 35mm. The DVD from TeleVista appears to show the complete or near-complete film and runs approximately 63 minutes. Yet, the TeleVista version has significantly worse picture quality, which was surely copied from a contrasty reduction print. This situation arises occasionally, especially with the older films in the public domain. "A Girl's Folly" (1917) is available under the same situation: one version with high picture quality but an incomplete print and another version that is more complete but of lesser visual quality. Fortunately for me, I had the opportunity to view both without purchase. I don't see an easy choice if one were limited to one or the other in this situation.

This "King Lear" was one of a spew of Shakespeare films made for the bard's tercentenary, although Shakespeare already had been for years a source for numerous screen adaptations. Some of the other 1916 films are now presumed lost: Metro's "Romeo and Juliet" starring Francis X. Bushman and Beverly Bayne, both stars at the time but now largely forgotten; Fox's "Romeo and Juliet" with the vamp Theda Bara; a "Macbeth" featuring Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree; and a conceptually intriguing lampooning of Shakespearian acting, "The Real Thing at Last", which historian Judith Buchanan ("Shakespeare on Silent Film: an Excellent Dumb Discourse") considers the most regretful lost Shakespeare of the silent era.

Frederick Warde who plays Lear here also played the title role in the early feature-length Shakespeare film "Richard III" (1912). Although he and the rest of the cast of "King Lear" are theatrical, the acting is better suited to the screen than that which appeared in "Richard III". The comparatively closer camera views and more scene dissection in the 1916 film as opposed to the static 1912 early feature also help considerably in this respect. Overall, Thanhouser's "King Lear" is a decent rendering of the play's plot and is well paced, but isn't anything special. The swordfights are rather pathetic, but better than those performed in the earlier Thanhouser Shakespearian photoplay "Cymbeline" (1913). Some of Shakespeare's language is well used in the odd font of the intertitles.

According to Buchanan, the film originally included a prologue where Warde played himself reading "King Lear" and then imagined himself in the role, thus introducing the main narrative, but this part is absent from both versions that I viewed.


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