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Hamlet

Ring a Ding Ding

Hamlet (1948)

     In making Hamlet, Laurence Olivier was credited with, more than anyone else, introducing Shakespeare to the mass public at the time, and rightfully so. Not only does Olivier star in this film adaptation of a brooding young man attempting to prove his uncle murdered his father in pursuit of the throne of Denmark, but he directed, produced, and co-wrote the screenplay. I typically refer to this as “going Orson Welles” because of that actor’s similar control of multiple aspects of his Hollywood debut, Citizen Kane.

     This version of Hamlet, although two and a half hours long, drastically cuts down on the four-hour play by eliminating multiple soliloquies and characters. What we’re left with is a very compact two-hour drama that is both visually stunning and dramatically over the moon.

     The black and white picture grabbed me most with its traveling long takes that move seamlessly through the narrow halls and arched stone doorways of the castle. The picture both opens and closes with this cinematographic device. Equally compelling are the instances when the spectre of Hamlet’s father visits the various characters in foggy low-lit nights. Not only is the ghost eerie in appearance and voice, but the technique used to warn the viewer that something strange is occurring is also worthy of note. A simultaneous sound and camera-movement “heartbeat” blurs the viewers perception of the living characters just as they realize they are not alone.

     The Shakespearean language can be understandably off-putting to some, but the actors in this Hamlet, especially Olivier, speak it as though it were second nature. Whereas a mediocre actor could easily kill a Shakespearian story with poor delivery of the script, Olivier triumphs and overwhelms the audience with his superb portrayal of young Hamlet. Jean Simmons joins the cast as Ophelia, giving a commendable performance as a young woman consumed by mania. My complaint about this film is a poor establishment of any romantic connection between Hamlet and Ophelia. When Hamlet returns at the end of the film to stumble upon Ophelia’s funeral, he declares that he loved the woman, while I ponder “since when?”

     I am generally not a huge fan of Shakespeare and even refuse to have anything to do with Romeo and Juliet (it is way too depressing), so I’m not one to jump on the opportunity to sit through 2.5 hours of it. Hamlet, however, won Best Picture for 1948, so it was necessary to check off my list. Ultimately, I’m glad for the decision; however, I will refrain from giving Hamlet a Wowza!  review because it was a long sit and I found myself easily distracted.

Source: Robert Osborne

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