Olivier. Laurence Olivier is, of course, a brilliant actor. However, he also directed five films and four of them are in the archives. The first three are his best and they’re Shakespeare adaptations (though it is fascinating to see him and Marilyn Monroe act together in his fourth film- The Prince and the Showgirl). You’d think that since he’s an actor, and this is the sacred work of the Bard, he’d simply film the stage and they’d be woefully uncinematic. That isn’t the case though. I won’t call Olivier a style-plus director, he isn’t, but there’s no way Henry V or Hamlet are as good as they are if he simply relied on the text and world-class acting (which there certainly is—in spades—in these films). These are well directed.
Best film: Henry V. I believe it was the most expensive British film at the time. It is Olivier’s directional debut, and it is not only an achievement for him, but for Shakespeare adaptations (this is the first successful one to my knowledge) and color films (there still weren’t many in 1943). Olivier’s decision to open the film on a stage, and then transport it outside to a “film” is formally bold—ingenious really.
total archiveable films: 4
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 1 (Henry V)
top 100 films of the decade: 1 (Henry V)
most overrated: Olivier does not have one. Henry V is actually a little underrated by the consensus at #978 and Hamlet lands in a good spot, at #1567 on the TSPDT all-time consensus list.
most underrated : Henry V. I’m at least a couple hundred spots higher here—and you certainly can’t ‘make a list of the best 100 films of the 1940’s without it.
gem I want to spotlight : Hamlet. Olivier goes for color in three of his four achievable films—but black and white is the perfect choice for the fog and gothic architecture on display here- again—he’s not just content to let the 20th century’s best Shakespeare act in front of a static camera with nothing else to admire.
- Inventive— again, nobody is going to accuse Olivier of being a top 100 director, say he’s a superior director to his acting (he’s on my top 100 actor list and far from it here on the director side), or even the best adapter of Shakespeare to the big screen (I laugh when some argue about Olivier vs. Branagh for this title when it is clearly either Kurosawa or Welles)—but the formal brilliance of Henry V is an achievement, as is the gothic architecture mixed with fog in Hamlet and the matte painting brilliance of Richard III shouldn’t be ignored either- gorgeous
- Great acting galore of course- and not just Olivier—but Jean Simmons in Hamlet, Ralph Richardson, Gielgud—some of the best Shakespeare actors ever captured on screen
- Henry V
- Richard III
- The Prince and the Showgirl
By year and grades
|1944- Henry V||MS|
|1955- Richard III||R|
|1957- The Prince and the Showgirl||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives