Spoiler alert, they all die

by James Wigderson | June 29, 2016 11:53 pm

Turner Classic Movies is showing a series of classic Shakespeare films. I went to the invaluable IMDB movie site to find out if it was true that Hamlet[1] was made in black and white because Laurence Olivier was having a dispute with Technicolor. (Yes, it is true.)

I had to laugh at this:

hamlet spoiler

It’s a good thing they didn’t have IMDB back in 1601. It would have ruined the play.

I did find this piece of trivia interesting:

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 Laurence Olivier’s name as the winner.

On the one hand, I sympathize since Olivier made the decision to excise Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from the film. On the other hand, it’s hard to complain about not remaining true to the text since Shakespeare himself fiddled with the text as needed and a faithful rendition of Hamlet, like Kenneth Branagh’s in 1996, would bring the play to four hours. Olivier’s Hamlet still clocks in at 2 hours 35 minutes.

I suspect the real reason Ethel B wasn’t happy was because somebody won a best actor award in a movie made from a play by Shakespeare, and that somebody didn’t have the last name of the famed acting family of Barrymore.

Still, Olivier did play with the language to make it more readily understood to the modern ear. Not sure if that’s forgivable.

One other thought as I watch Ophelia drown (oops, spoiler), when Olivier as Hamlet is giving the theater company advice on acting, did the other actors have a hard time keeping a straight face? Olivier’s reputation for off-screen “advice” to his fellow actors was pretty well known.

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  1. Hamlet: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0040416/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv
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