Richard III: The Criterion Collection
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While Richard III did not arrive on screen until the mid-'50s, like all of Olivier's Shakespearean films, it's based on a stage production, this one mounted at the Old Vic in 1944. Olivier at first was worried about taking the part just as his Oedipal Hamlet arrived after John Gielgud's romantic, age-defining turn, this Richard would come on the heels of one of the most popular production in decades. Typical of Olivier's anti-Method, "outside-in" style, he began fashioning his Richard as if from a painting, with the large nose, the reedy voice, the rapidly blinking eyes, the feminine, coal-black hair. In fact, Olivier's two main influences during this process were a film producer he particularly disliked and the animated version of the Big Bad Wolf. It's since become regarded as one of Olivier's most indelible creations, and even though the size of the prosthetic nose was reduced for the screen, he still plays the part large enough to fill the Globe Theater to the topmost tier. Arriving in 1592/93, Richard III completed Shakespeare's Wars of the Roses tetralogy (preceded by the three Henry VI plays), and it was his first actual hit. No mystery there audiences find villains more interesting than heroes, and via Richard's soliloquies we are invited to join him on his gruesome quest for the throne (these famous soliloquies, by the way, aren't just a character's introspective asides they're brutal blood-pacts made with the audience itself). Various actors have employed different tactics over the years to make Richard interesting or somehow uniquely theirs for Olivier, the essential humor of Shakespeare's dialogue seems to ring the most true. Whether wooing Anne ("Was ever woman in this humor won?") or declaring his brother George's imminent death in a matter-of-fact tone ("He cannot live I hope"), listening to Olivier's Richard allows us to enjoy the usurping of power just as much as he does. Yes, being a heartless bastard for a couple of hours is fun. Cineastes looking for added value can enjoy the colorful, minimalist art direction, along with Olivier's bold use of long takes, which run five minutes and longer, capturing streams of flawless dialogue in Shakespeare's rich iambic pentameter. It's a nice reminder that some folks are actors the rest are just movie stars.
Criterion's two-disc DVD release of Richard III features a strong anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a Technicolor source-print that looks nearly perfect with accurate flesh-tones and vivid detail, while audio comes on a DD 1.0 channel. Disc One features a commentary from the 1994 Laserdisc featuring playwright Russell Lee and Royal Shakespeare Company governor John Wilders. Disc Two features an extensive 1966 television interview of Olivier by critic Kenneth Tynan (including film clips), a collection of posters and production stills, and two trailers. Dual-DVD keep-case.