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James Cellan Jones
In 16th century Venice, when a merchant must default on a large loan from an abused Jewish moneylender for a friend with romantic ambitions, the bitterly vengeful creditor demands a gruesome payment instead.
This video features a towering performance by Anthony Quayle as Falstaff that will live in your memory.
99% of actors want to be loved by the audience, even the villains. The part of Falstaff is written with so many opportunities for funny tableaux, then finishing off with a heart-rending bid for tears, that it brings out the shameless exhibitionist in just about anyone who's ever tried the role.
Anthony Quayle does something completely different. He constructs a Falstaff with top, bottom and sides, with every action and reaction motivated as something the man might do, rather than as yet another chance to seduce the audience with a cute bit of business, or as the Gaels refer to it, shtik.
Given Anthony Quayle's vinegary, often bilious stage persona, the result is a Falstaff who calculates, ruthlessly exploits all around him, relies on his charm to lie his way out of scrapes, and thoroughly deserves his humiliation at the end.
In other productions, Falstaff is often an endearing Santa Claus-like scamp who is wronged by a callous and arbitrary King (see Orson Welles in the wonderful "Chimes at Midnight"). However, as embodied by Anthony Quayle, we accept that it is absolutely necessary and understandable that Hal reject Falstaff. We feel for the rogue knight and regret his collapse, but we also know that the new King is right to do what he does. In this way, Quayle's Falstaff is remarkable.
The rest of the proceedings are not quite on this level. Jon Finch's performance as Henry IV was sturdy in Part 1, but unravels along with the King's health in Part 2. When Finch errs, he does on the side of moistness, and much his work here strikes me as squishy and sentimental. Your mileage may differ, but I grew impatient with his less-than-royal wallowing.
Otherwise, I don't know whether to admire Gordon Gostelow's Bardolph more for his acting or his makeup - either way he's quite a picture. And Bryan Pringle's Pistol seems almost more Dickensian than Shakespearean. Brenda Bruce continues to bring out the humanity in Mistress Quickly, and Frances Cuka's Doll Tearsheet is surprisingly contemporary.
Finally, an impatient note about the sound. With all the attention paid to restoring the image of a 25-year old video for DVD release, it's a crime that the quality of the audio was not remedied as well. It's not that people upstage are more distant from the microphone (which they are), it's that the volume level is all over the place, and it's difficult to find a setting that will not have you leaping out of your seat to fix roaring or whispering, sometimes both in the same sentence. Keep your remote handy.
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