|Laurence Olivier as Richard the Third|
"A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse."
"Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York."
Desiring the throne of England, Richard III (Laurence Olivier) schemes and plots to do away with any one who might impede his progress or limit his chances of ascending. His victims include his brother, George (John Gielgud); his little nephews, the princes; his associate, the Duke of Buckingham (Ralph Richardson), who balks a bit at the idea of murdering little boys; and others. Richard covets and seduces The Lady Anne (Claire Bloom), the widow of a man he killed on the battlefield, and suggests that the widow of the king has cast spells against him. He lies, manipulates, and agitates behind the scenes. He is a royal monster. Richard III, based on Shakespeare's masterpiece and preserving most of its text, is itself a masterpiece, a stirring drama that excels in performance, music (Sir William Wharton), direction (Olivier) and photography (Otto Heller). Gielgud and Richardson are superb, Bloom is radiant and excellent, and there are notable performances from Cedric Hardwicke as King Edward; Mary Kerridge as Queen Elizabeth; Laurence Naismith as The Lord Stanley; Michael Gough [Black Zoo] as the murderer Dighton; Alec Clunes as Hastings; Andrew Cruickshank [The Stranglers of Bombay] as Brakenbury; and others. The only problem with this wonderful movie is, oddly, Laurence Olivier [Carrie] in the title role. He plays Richard like a malevolent pixie, humorous and above it all, finding everything funny, an interpretation that isn't necessarily wrong, as such, but doesn't work for everybody. In love with the language and his own voice, he tends to rush through many lines, making them musical but obscuring their meaning, to the detriment of his character. Some will find him flamboyant; others hammy. Still, Olivier is by no means bad -- his performance, whatever its flaws, doesn't detract from the film's brilliance -- and he is so obviously having a ball that it's hard not to settle back and simply enjoy him as this nasty creature, Richard. His death scene is extremely well-played, as is the death of George in the tower; oddly the death of the princes was handled more powerfully in the 1939 Tower of London. Richard has also been played on film by Vincent Price. who was rather good, and Basil Rathbone, in the aforementioned Tower of London. Al Pacino also played the role in a few scenes in Looking for Richard and was also creditable. Modern-day adaptations of the play have to dumb it down for the audience by setting it in fascist fantasy lands or other more contemporary milieus.
Verdict: Who dares say Shakespeare is dull? ****.