5 May 2013

Hamlet 1948

Hamlet 1948
  • Director: Laurence Olivier
  • Based on book: Shakespeare.
  • Cast: Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Basil Sydney, Eileen Herlie, Norman Wooland, Felix Aylmer,  Terence Morgan
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Laurence Olivier – As You Like It, Richard III, Henry V, Spartacus, Sleuth, Oh! What a Lovely War.
    • Jean Simmons – Spartacus, Elmer Gantry and many more
  • Why bought: Hamlet
  • Seen: First time: awhile ago. Second time: December 12, 2009 Now: February 9, 2013

In the first place, Denmark doesn’t have any mountains, it’s as flat as a pancake (makes for good bicycling, believe me). Second, there may be confusion about Hamlet’s age but he is definitely not thirty-seven years old and getting wrinkles. Thirdly, a more monotone, expressionless To Be or Not to Be is hard to imagine.  In the fourth place, weep, weep, weep easily becomes (and does) wimp, wimp, wimp – Ophelia and Gertrude deserve a much deeper portrayal!
More about Larry. At moments the genius he’s famous for can be glimpsed – his nonchalant leaning against the wall and his flippant tone when Claudius is asking him about poor dead Polonius hit the right note.  And his final words, “The rest is silence”, spoken in a resigned but almost amused voice with a little twitch of the eyebrow, is perfect.
But those moments do not make up for two and a half hours of an Olivier who is either so laid back that you wonder if he’s mentally writing a grocery list while filming, or screaming and throwing women to the floor or kissing his mother lasciviously or flouncing around with limp wrists. Granted Hamlet is a multifaceted and enigmatic figure but the facets should at least match the character in the play.
People don’t agree with me. The movie got an Oscar for best movie. Olivier for best actor. Tastes differ.
Wasn’t there anything I liked about it? Yes, there was. Best was the incredibly beautiful black and white photography, the dramatic stairways in the enormous castle, the swirling fog, the long corridors. Extremely suggestive, psychological and gripping. It was also an interesting touch that after her confrontation with Hamlet, Gertrude turns away from Claudius who is saddened and bewildered by it.
Otherwise, sorry, this is my least favorite Hamlet.  But it is Hamlet so therefore

2 ½ * of 5


  1. Well, that's strikingly generous. I expected just about 0,5 out 5. After all, trash is trash, Hamlet or no Hamlet.

    The first point about the mountains still doens't look good; I am sure it sounded much better as a genuine cri de coeur when you first saw that semi-nonsense based on Shakespeare.

    The other three points are much better aimed, though I of course disagree with all of them - except for Gertrude. Leaving aside those stupid kisses, she deserves a more vigorous interpretation than that. Eileen Herlie did something to fix that 16 years later with Richard Burton on Broadway. But yes, on the whole there are much more powerful Queens out there. My favourite so far? Perhaps Claire Bloom in the BBC adaptation.

    Actually people tend to agree with you these days. "Richard III" is now generally considered Olivier's best take on Shakespeare - at least when he is taken seriously as an actor, which is seldom.

    But tastes do differ. Isn't it fascinating?

    PS Non sequitur, since you mention the original "Sleuth", a few days ago I revisited the new one, just to be sure I am not missing something I could possibly gain from it. No. I found it, again, lame and full of misplaced foul language. Perhaps it might have done better without the benefit of the original. But the latter is unforgettable.

  2. Am I really that mean to poor Larry? I usually like quite a lot about his movies...not the least much about Richard III.
    And Sleuth? I loved both of them. I know the new one got lousy reviews but I thought it was great. It will probably show up on this blog one of these years.