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Hamlet (I) (1964)

 -  Drama  -  23 September 1964 (USA)
7.4
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The highly successful 1964 Richard Burton Broadway production of "Hamlet", deliberately staged in the style of a "dress rehearsal", but performed in front of a live audience.

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Title: Hamlet (1964)

Hamlet (1964) on IMDb 7.4/10

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Alfred Drake ...
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William Redfield ...
George Rose ...
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Storyline

Sir John Gielgud directed this "Electronovision" taping of the play "Hamlet" performed at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater on Broadway in 1964 ("Electronovision" was a short-lived gimmick which was basically closed-circuit TV). The most unusual thing about this film is that the actors are in street clothes instead of period costumes, and the sets are minimal, to say the least. Written by frankfob2@yahoo.com

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23 September 1964 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Richard Burton's Hamlet  »

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1.33 : 1
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Richard Burton's adoptive father, Philip Burton, had to intervene and help his son with his interpretation of the melancholy Dane, as well as help other cast members who were confused by director John Gielgud's direction (or lack of it). Philip had been estranged from Richard since the younger Burton left his wife and two daughters to hook up with Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra (1963). Though the two hadn't spoken since the breakup of Richard's marriage, Taylor called Philip and told him that Richard was struggling under Gielgud's direction. Four years earlier, Philip had stepped in to help director Moss Hart with the direction of the 1960 Broadway musical "Camelot" after Hart had had a heart-attack. Father and son were reconciled, and under Philip's tutelage, Richard Burton ultimately presented a Hamlet that was more of the old Jacobian "Revenger" type (known colloquially as "Belleforest" after an adulterated version of the play dating from the 18th Century) that was the antithesis of the Gielgud-Laurence Olivier German Romantic conception of Hamlet that had dominated the English-speaking stage in the 20th century. (In addition to fusing Freud with the Bard, Olivier did add Revenger flourishes to his Hamlet, though, by making the character somewhat of a swashbuckler. However, Belleforest-style Hamlets, such as the one presented by Albert Finney at the National Theatre in 1975, were considered "old-fashioned" as they underplayed the psychology so dear to 20th Century audiences and were typically panned by critics.) Prior to his step-father's help, Richard Burton had found himself unable to convincingly play a Romantic Hamlet under Gielgud's direction. Ironically, as the long run of his Broadway Hamlet went on, a bored Burton would vary his Hamlet night by night according to how he felt. According to his own memoirs, Richard Burton might one night present the prince as a homosexual, while another night add German words to the text in order to see if anyone noticed. Some theatrical mavens who had returned to the theater to see the fiery Hamlet of the opening days of the production criticized Burton for his lack of discipline. See more »

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A theatrical experience
18 February 2004 | by (Los Angeles, CA) – See all my reviews

For those looking for a strictly cinematic version of "Hamlet" you should probably look elsewhere, but for a theatrical experience of the classic tale of the Melancholy Dane, you could do worse than pick up this version of the 1964 Broadway production starring Richard Burton.

Essentially a photographed performance of a stage production, this "Hamlet" was directed by John Gielgud with the concept of being a dress rehearsal (to pacify Richard Burton's dislike of wearing period costume) with actors in street clothes and bare bones set and props. The concept falls flat but Gielgud does a fine job of staging the action (the convention of showing the ghost as a massive shadow voiced by Gielgud works wonderfully well), making one wish that he'd used a more conventional look for the show. The cast is decidedly uneven, ranging from brilliant (Hume Cronyn in his Tony-winning role as Polonius) to incompetent (Alfred Drake as a rather hopeless Claudius). While Burton is hardly the definitive Hamlet, frequently resorting to vocal pyrotechnics which are ultimately meaningless, there is no doubting his intelligence or brooding charisma in the role. He may not have hit a bull's eye, but he is so far beyond such recent mediocre Hamlets as Ethan Hawke, Kenneth Branagh and Mel Gibson that his performance truly gives the viewer a splendid example of what a distinguished classical actor is capable of. His handling of the soliloquies (especially "Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I") are very effective indeed.

Those who quibble with the lack of close-ups or iffy cinematic qualities are missing the point of the experience: the faraway perspective makes the viewer fell like they are seated at an actual live performance at the Lunt Fontanne Theatre in 1964, and gives a much more uniquely theatrical experience than attempts to "cinemize" the play such as Branagh's vulgar and miscast film version or Olivier's celebrated bowdlerized adaptation (whose gutting of the text frequently plays like "Hamlet's Greatest Hits").

Not much thought was given to the Special Features of the DVDs: the listing of the awards won by Burton, Cronyn and Gielgud are laughably incomplete, and it seems to me that the producers missed an opportunity by not including observations by a living cast member on a second voice track (cast members William Refield and Richard L. Sterne each wrote books on the production, and it might have been rewarding to hear the remembrances of Hume Cronyn or John Cullum or Alfred Drake on this DVD).

But despite it's faults, this is a valuable little treasure for anyone with serious interest in Shakespeare's play and a unique opportunity to see a memorable theater production without leaving your living room.


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