Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Movie 1, Bard 0

I watched the British 1955 Laurence Olivier version of "Richard III" on Netflix last night.

Remarkably bad. Production values straight out of high school drama class. The Battle of Bosworth Field fought in a bitterly arid plain in Spain. (The rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain, but not on this one) Painfully obviously not England. Armor made out of heating ducts. Costumes and props laughable. Olivier, as part of Richard III's deformity, had an appliance on his face which made his nose about a foot long and which was constantly distracting. Camera work amateurish. Sets a combination of Early Warehouse and Pier One Imports. Painted backdrops that looked like recycled panels from Prince Valiant comic strips.

Even with a cast of the greatest British Shakespeareans - Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Cecil Hardwicke, John Gielgud, others, it was never in the least convincing. Olivier muffed his "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!" line. He sounded like he was reciting Shakespeare rather than acting it. The Duke of Richmond with an Irish brogue. Simply ridiculous.

It may be that this was an early example of translating a play to a movie. In our modern sensibility and experience movies have such large budgets, high production values, and verisimilitude that we are shocked and dismissive at movies that do not have them.

In a playhouse one would not expect those things. In the Globe Theater there were not cavalry charges across Bosworth Field. In ancient Greek tragedy there was no convincingly detailed set of Troy. Nor any costumes or props at all except masks and the occasional sword or cup.

So it may be that two things went wrong. Olivier made a play into a movie without knowing much about how to make a movie. And I watched a movie without being willing or able to see it as a play.

Or it could be as simple as that it has not aged well.


  1. Anonymous1:02 AM

    Poor Larry, his nose doesn't look that long, and it's Sir Cedric Hardwick. Think of it this way: they were an English theatre troup doing a play for English people to see in film theatres. Not for the bloody Americans who insist on reality, including in their TV --- aargh.

  2. Actually I said that in the third and second paragraphs from the end. ("It may be that...")

    But rather than suggest that it is good to read what one is commenting on before complaining about it, I think we should take the advice of Mark Twain in such matters.

    For an Irishman to write a comment without a crude insult or racist slur is like a dog walking on his hind legs. One should marvel that he can do it at all rather than complain that he does it badly.

  3. Anonymous4:10 AM

    You really dont like the Irish do you...?

  4. Actually I quite like the Irish. But Christy and Damien are exceptions.

    They childishly vandalized my house when they lived here in the summer of 2008 and then couldn't bring themselves to accept responsibility for their actions when I kept their security deposit to pay for cleaning and repair of the damage they had done.

    Now they are attempting to vandalize this blog in the same way. With the same childish inability to accept responsibility for their actions. They posted an endless series of racist slurs and personal insults worthy of eight-year-old children. They actually had the temerity to complain when I was forced to moderate comments to prevent their childish graffiti.

    Even though neither of them has the maturity of a permanently angry eight year old, I continue to let them post comments on the rare occasion when they do not contain racist slurs or personal insults.

  5. Christy2:38 PM

    Why are you so quick to blame us? It has now been established that Diane was squatting in the granny flat and that she was a serious headcase. Why arn't you complaining about her?

    Has it crossed your mind that the childish bigotry you hold against the Irish is completely unfounded and that we didn't vandalise your house?

    We are reasonable people. Why else would we sustain engagement with you on your blog if we didn't have a righteous cause to defend? The more I think of it, the more likely it is that Diane was responsible for the vandalism in question.

    And I am not Abood. It doesn't matter how much you spread that slur, it will never substantiate that insult.

  6. Anonymous8:13 PM

    That first post was not made by an Irishman, it was made by a pure English soul, who was agreeing with you on the 'play' thingy, partially. Did I complain? No I merely mentioned that early English films were made for the English, not Americans who expect car chases, no matter whether needed or not.

    However, you never mentioned the primary part of my post. That you did not read the names (Sir CEDRIC) and Larry Olivier's nose looks quite its usual size. My you are fast to tell others of their 'mistakes' oh typical American.
    Now I suppose you will berate the English.

  7. You guys are a broken record. Get on with your lives and let it go. Christy stop antagonizing Jack. And Jack stop reacting. That is what they want to make your blood boil. Why give them the time of day. Don't you have better things to do with your time?

  8. I hereby berate the English.

  9. Anonymous3:27 PM

    It is of its time ... much has been learnt about how to do Shakespeare for film since then, (see the recent The Hollow Crown series), but there is also much to enjoy ... Olivier bringing out the comedy, Guilguid, the scenes with the Lord Mayor and the rent-a-crowd, making Buckingam kneel, and gorgeous Clare Bloom.