Combustible Celluloid
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With: Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Claire Bloom, Cedric Hardwicke, Nicholas Hannen, Mary Kerridge, Pamela Brown, Paul Huson, Stewart Allen, Russell Thorndike, Wallace Bosco, Norman Fisher, Andrew Cruickshank, Clive Morton
Written by: David Garrick, Colley Cibber, Laurence Olivier, based on a play by William Shakespeare
Directed by: Laurence Olivier
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 161
Date: 13/12/1955

Richard III (1955)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's hard to imagine anyone better than Laurence Olivier playing the twisted, lurching, serpentine Richard III, a Shakespearian villain that might even give Iago the shakes. Richard is Duke of Gloucester, who is bent on stealing the crown from his brother Edward, and will stop at little to get it.

In his 1955 feature film adaptation, Olivier gives the character pride, boredom and frustration and brings him down to a more human level. In his other role as director, Olivier manages a few stunning flourishes, especially in the film's first few minutes.

His lengthy traveling shots and brilliant transitions take the play from the stage and into the cinema. But somewhere over the course of 158 minutes the film loses its momentum, mostly thanks to the supporting cast. Despite such luminaries as John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Claire Bloom, they just can't match Olivier's enthusiasm and passion -- or maybe the director/star wouldn't let them.

In any case, the Criterion Collection has updated their 1994 laserdisc release into a crisp 2004 2-disc DVD set bursting with Olivier's glorious color scheme. They've included the vintage 1994 commentary track by playwright and stage director Russell Lees with former governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company John Wilders.

The second disc includes a full-length BBC documentary from 1966, Great Acting, an interview with Olivier conducted by Kenneth Tynan. The package also includes stills, the theatrical trailer, and the twelve-minute television trailer that includes behind the scenes footage. Bruce Eder provides the informative jacket essay.

The Criterion Collection has gone even further with the 2013 Blu-ray edition, which features a new digital master of The Film Foundation's 2012 4K restoration, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The quality is just luminous. This new edition includes all the old extras, plus a restoration demonstration hosted by director Martin Scorsese. The essay by Bruce Eder has been replaced by a new one by film critic Amy Taubin, though the old one can still be accessed at Criterion's website.

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