Simanaitis Says

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THERE IS NO SHORTAGE of cinematic treatment of Shakespeare’s plays. Indeed, Wikipedia observes that “The Guinness Book of Records lists 410 feature-length film and TV versions of William Shakespeare’s plays, making Shakespeare the most filmed author ever in any language. As of June 2020, the Internet Movie Database lists Shakespeare as having writing credit on 1,500 films, including those under production but not yet released.”

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The Internet contains lists a’plenty of “14 Essential,”“15 Best,”“17 Best,“20 Best,” “43 Best,” and the like, all fun to scan. 

Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, is my list of five, in the order of actual viewing, and a must-find that I learned about while composing this. You’re encouraged to add your own favorites. 

HENRY V, 1944. Wikipedia notes, “The film was made near the end of World War II and was intended as a morale booster for Britain…. It stars Laurence Olivier, who also directed. The play was adapted for the screen by Olivier, Dallas Bower, and Alan Dent. The score is by William Walton.”

I saw the film in my high school years, when it was making the art-house circuit of neat “older” films. “Hank Cinq” is a play-within-an-Elizabethan play, made all the more fascinating to me thanks to Miss Dougherty’s theater appreciation influence.

The original trailer for Henry V, 1944, from YouTube.

To this day, I recall Henry V’s stirring Saint Crispin’s speech prior to their victory at the Battle of Agincourt. And his subsequent wooing of Princess Katherine is charming, accompanied by Walton’s lovely romantic music.

Titus, 1999. Fast forward to the time when my Travel & Expense budget exceeded my salary. And when late-night, jet-lagged viewing exposed me to Titus, Julie Taymor’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s revenge tragedy Titus Andronicus. 

Julie Taymor’s Titus trailer, YouTube.

As I noted back in “Three Fruits of Jet Lag,” “Julie Taymor frames this tragedy as a fantasy of punk rock, ancient Rome, and Mussolini Italy. I confess that Titus contains more blood and guts than I typically prefer watching. However, Taymor’s visual artistry and Shakespeare’s commanding words made the film compelling and memorable to me.”

Hamlet, 1948. You’d think this wordiest of Shakespeare’s plays would be all but impossible to condense into 155 minutes of cinema. And, indeed, Olivier’s Hamlet was the first sound film of the play in English. 

Wikipedia writes, “… it proved controversial among Shakespearean purists, who felt that Olivier had made too many alterations and excisions to the four-hour play by cutting nearly two hours’ worth of content.”

Hamlet, the 1948 trailer from YouTube

Yet to many (including me), the visuals of this black-and-white classic combine with its abbreviated text to produce a masterpiece. Wikipedia writes, “According to J. Lawrence Guntner, the style of the film owes much to German Expressionism and to film noir: The cavernous sets featuring narrow winding stairwells correspond to the labyrinths of Hamlet’s psyche.”  

Others agreed: Olivier’s Hamlet garnered Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Art Direction-Set Direction, and Best Costume Design. William Walton’s score was nominated as well, as were Olivier for Best Director and Jean Simmons for Best Supporting Actress.

This one, which I recently viewed on Turner Classic Movies, was a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. 

Tomorrow in Part 2 are two more of my favorite Bard flicks, as well as a must-find. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022

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