Since Garrick reminded us of Olivier, and Steve was just talking about Shakespeare movies, this came to mind – a very early Criterion DVD I bought on sale and never watched, and now the disc is in storage but the movie’s on Criterion Channel in very nice quality.
Opens with a super sweet model town, this should be the whole movie, minus that typical 40’s movie music that gets so choir-bombastic it overloads everything and just sounds like a dull roar of horrid horns. The play is being framed as a debut performance at the Globe, complete with crowd reaction and backstage shots. Leslie Banks (the Jimmy Stewart of the original Man Who Knew Too Much) returns as narrator before each act. It starts raining at the largely outdoor theater before act 2, then the setting magically shifts to Southampton, the sets in the “real world” looking more fake than the Globe, but it’s nice to get outside.
Olivier’s direction is fine and inventive, but the performances are super-declarative and I’m barely even trying to follow the action, except when Falstaff shows up, dying in bed with sour memories of the King’s final kiss-off speech via voiceover. The change in scenery allows for crowd scenes and big camera crane-ups, but I admit the endless speeches are less engaging without the crowd reactions – but the crowd in the early section was distracting when their laughter competed with the speeches, so apparently I cannot be pleased. I thought the performance style was tuned to the Globe, but once we go offstage they yell just as much, in fact the king’s famous pre-battle Crispin’s Day speech sets a new movie record for yelling. I was surprised to recognize John Laurie – the accent helps. Two women speak French, and either subtitles hadn’t been invented yet or it’s assumed that anyone going to see an Olivier/Shakespeare movie in the 1940’s would know French. Olivier was given an honorary Oscar, after this movie lost all its category nominations to The Best Years of Our Lives.