Starring: Laurence Olivier, Basil Sydney, Jean Simmons, Eileen Herlie, Norman Wooland, Felix Aylmer, Terence Morgan
Director: Laurence Olivier
Summary: The melancholy Dane flirts with insanity while trying to prove his uncle murdered his father
Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Olivier)*, Supporting Actress (Simmons), Dramatic/Comedy Score, B&W Art Direction*, B&W Costume Design*
-Really strong cast top to bottom. Obviously Olivier is the star and this is the best work I’ve seen him do, brooding and intense even if he goes overboard occasionally with his expressions (more on this later). The only complaint is that he’s 40 playing a young man, which is most noticeable when matched up with the actress playing Gertrude (Hamlet’s mother) who’s 11 years younger than Oliver, which has to be a record. There are also a ton of awesome people in bit parts that were either great then or would later become significant: Peter Cushing (Osric), Anthony Quayle (Marcellus), Niall MacGinnis (The Sea Captain, a character made up for this version), Patrick Troughton aka the 2nd Doctor (Player King), Stanley Holloway (Gravedigger)
-The presentation is great, from the sets, costumes, cinematography and effects (the ghost of the late king is still effective in look and voice). It helps breathe life into the play while not going overboard and trying to make it something it’s not, like the Kenneth Branagh version where Hamlet is apparently an olympic-class javelin thrower and everything is turned up to 11 (see this actual scene from that version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWjn2oSVBm8); even Schwarzenegger’s Hamlet was more subdued (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCVc5TaPpe8).
-The source material is one of the better Shakespeare plays in my opinion, a classic tale about obsession with revenge at all costs that ruins the lives of the main character and everyone around him.
-While good overall, the adaptation does have some noticeable flaws. First, in order to get the movie down to a manageable runtime, it cuts out the characters of Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and Fortinbras entirely-while the story works without them, it seems unusual for an adaptation to entirely remove the first two considering they’re fairly memorable side characters; others since have found a way to include them and still run at a reasonable time. Second, while there were some incestual undertones in Hamlet’s relationship with his mother in the original, here the moves goes to extremes, most noticeably when Hamlet has crazy rapey eyes in the bedroom scene and when he takes a big comical gulp when he talks about Claudius having sex with his mother.
-A minor complaint, but the opening narration refers to the story as “the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.” Not only is it silly to reduce the play to something that simple, I have no idea where this comes from-he acts consistently after he discovers who killed his father, and decides to keep down the same road after the “to be or not to be” scene.
The best Shakespeare adaptation yet, with strong performances and production values even if the adaptation itself had some flaws.