William Shakespeare's tale of tragedy of murder and revenge in the royal halls of medieval Denmark. Claudius, brother to the King, conniving with the Queen, poisons the monarch and seizes the throne, taking the widowed Gertrude for his bride. Hamlet, son of the murdered King, mournful of his father's death and mother's hasty marriage, is confronted by the ghost of the late King who reveals the manner of his murder. Seeking revenge, Hamlet re-creates the monstrous deed in a play with the help of some travelling actors to torment the conscience of the evil Claudius. In a visit with his mother, Hamlet expresses his anger and disappointment concerning her swiftly untimed marriage. Thinking a concealed spy in his mother's chamber to be the lurking Claudius, he mistakenly kills the meddling counselor, Polonius, father of Ophelia and Laertes. Claudius, on the pretext that Hamlet will be endangered by his subjects for the murder of Polonius, sends the Prince to England.Written by
One of the William Shakespeare purists who criticized this shorn-down version of the play was Ethel Barrymore, who complained that it wasn't as faithful as the stage version produced on Broadway in 1922, in which her brother John Barrymore played Hamlet. Ethel Barrymore was the presenter of the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards that year and was visibly shaken when she read out Sir Laurence Olivier's name as the winner. See more »
A clock is heard chiming the half-hour in Westminster chimes. If chiming clocks were invented at the time of the action they wouldn't sound the Westminster chimes which date only - as the name suggests - from the installation of the Big Ben clock in 1859. See more »
So oft it chances in particular men / That through some vicious mole of nature in them, / By the o'ergrowth of some complexion / Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason, / Or by some habit grown too much; that these men - / Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect, / Their virtues else - be they as pure as grace, / Shall in the general censure take corruption / From that particular fault... This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.
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Opening credits prologue:
So oft it chances in particular men That through some vicious mole of nature in them, By the o'ergrowth of some complexion Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason, Or by some habit grown too much; that these men - Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect, Their virtues else - be they as pure as grace, Shall in the general censure take corruption From that particular fault. See more »
It stands to reason that Larry Olivier's version of Hamlet is one of the best, and even if he was a little old for the role (in his forties by this time) it really is the perfect role for him.
One or two things to note - the camera angles and shots are often stunning, from above, using angles and shadows, extreme close-ups, and so on. This gives the sometimes ponderous adaptation atmosphere and the black and white photography is gorgeous. Amongst the supporting cast Jean Simmons is a childish, doting Ophelia but this works well. Not working so well are the soliloquies largely within Hamlet's head (and therefore, voiceover). This seems a little gimmicky and only really makes sense with 'To be or not to be'.
That aside, this really is Larry's show and he is brilliant. Despite a few cuts it does the original play proud and is, like Welles' Macbeth and Othello, a truly cinematic reading.
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