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.
Venice, 1596. Melancholy Antonio loves the youthful Bassanio, so when Bassanio asks for 3000 ducats, Antonio says yes before knowing it's to sue for the hand of Portia. His capital tied up in merchant ships at sea, Antonio must go to Shylock, a Jewish moneylender he reviles. Shylock wraps his grudge in kindness, offering a three-month loan at no interest, but if not repaid, Antonio will owe a pound of flesh. The Jew's daughter elopes with a Christian, whetting Shylock's hatred. While Bassanio's away wooing Portia, Antonio's ships founder, and Shylock demands his pound of flesh. With court assembled and a judgment due, Portia swings into action to save Bassanio's friend.Written by
Peter O'Toole almost got a version up and running in 1970, but a change of management at MGM led to it being cancelled. This is actually the first non-TV, feature film adaptation of "The Merchant of Venice" that was produced for a theatrical release. See more »
When Gratiano announces his love of Nerissa, his wine is red, then white. See more »
Intolerance of the Jews was a fact of 16th Century life even in Venice, the most powerful and liberal city state in Europe.
By law the Jews were forced to live in the old walled foundry or 'Geto' area of the city. After sundown the gate was locked and guarded by Christians
In the daytime any man leaving the ghetto had to wear a red hat to mark him as a Jew.
Man in Crowd:
The Jews were forbidden to own property. So they practised usury, the lending of money at interest. This was ...
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The original Merchant of Venice has serious weaknesses, particularly the casket and rings foolishness, which takes up far too much time.
But Radford makes these scenes much weaker than necessary. For example, he allows the suitors to overact laughably and also cuts their dialog in a way that limits their complexity -- especially with the Duke, who appears stuck-up but smart in the full text, merely stupidly foppish in the movie. In short, Radford wipes out any hope for either comedy or pathos -- both of which can be found in better productions.
In contrast to the cheesy heterosexuality, the clearly homosexual love of Antonio for Bassanio is quite moving, in large part because it's subtly played by an excellent Jeremy Irons. For that matter, Lynn Collins is much better at portraying Portia in drag than Portia the beautiful, expectant young maiden.
Meanwhile, the Shylock plot is compelling as always and benefits from an excellent performance by Pacino. However, a whole strand of Shylock's character has been more or less eliminated. In the full text, Shylock repeatedly makes it clear that he does *not* merely want revenge for mistreatment -- rather he wants to kill Antonio because Antonio is cutting into his business and bringing down interest rates by lending for free:
"I hate him for he is a Christian; but more for that in low simplicity he lends out money gratis, and brings down the rate of usance here with us in Venice."
That's also why Shylock refuses Bassanio's offer of many times more than Antonio owes -- Shylock knows that it still won't equal what he can make in higher interest if Antonio is dead:
"I will have the heart of him, if he forfeit; for, were he out of Venice, I can make what merchandise I will."
To make Shylock more sympathetic, such cold-hearted calculation is excised almost entirely from this screen version.
Still, by making Shylock less an outright villain, the director arguably improves on the original -- Pacino can appear more intriguingly human, less like the Jewish Snidely Whiplash that Shakespeare frequently gives us.
In all, I felt that about two-thirds of this Merchant was excellent drama, and one third was tedious romantic "comedy."
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