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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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)  »

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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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Version of Hamlet (1953) See more »

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See The Power Of Shakespere!
22 March 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This is not a film of Hamlet in the traditional sense. It was not made especially for the screen. It is a filmed version of the famed 1964 Broadway production starring the late, great Richard Burton. This version was shown for four performances only on two days in 1964 and then was supposed to be destroyed and thus lost to future generations. But Burton had a copy and thanks to this we have this film. And we should be glad because we nearly lost one of the best versions of Hamlet ever to grace any screen.

Because of the fact it was filmed during a dress rehearsal, it does not have the lavish period sets, costumes, etc. of other versions. This is in fact a far different version in that regard. This version is down with the most minimal of sets and in modern (1960's), even casual clothing. This is not the film for those of you who think Shakespere means lavish costumes and sets. This is a film that focuses on the actors and the words of Shakespere. And that is what makes this film unique. Yet this is both a pro and con of the film. The props and costumes are minimal and this serves at times to distract from the performances which is a shame, since it really the only flaw of the filmed version of the production.

But this is a film that showcases the power of Shakespere. Richard Burton is at the height of his powers in the title role. He can be depresses, charming, loving, comedic, and threatening all in the same scene and never lose his ability to completely take in you as an audience member. His rendition of the "To be or not to be" speech is awe inspiring to see and hear. He never fails to capture the character and this is nothing short of a great performance.

The rest of the cast is terrific as well. Hume Cronyn is terrific as Polonius playing a bumbling and, at times, oxymoron version of the character (for which I do believe he won a Tony Award). Alfred Drake is well suited as Claudius, though he is a bit wooden at times. Eileen Herlie is virtually perfect as Gertrude. Linda Marsh is particularly impressive as the love struck Ophelia and has great chemistry with Burton making their relationship all the more believable. Add on other great actors and an appearance by George Voskovec as the Player King and even a cameo by the play's director Sir John Gielgud as the ghost of King Hamlet to the mix as well.

Overall despite the limitations of this stage version, this is a terrific version of Hamlet. It is carried not by the usual sets and costumes but by the sheer power of actors and some of the greatest words ever to be put to page. If you are going the different versions of Hamlet, this would be a good place to start. See not only a great play, but an acting legend at the height of his powers. These are the reasons to see this version of Hamlet.


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