Hamlet Marathon on TNT

Actually, no.

In case you hadn’t guessed, that’s an obscure reference to one of my favorite lines from Alan Ball’s American Beauty. With it, Lester expresses his displeasure at being dragged to a high school basketball game to watch his daughter cheer. He’s irritated because the act feels obligatory, plus there’s a Bond marathon on TNT.

And then his world went blonde.

I mention this because I’m in the midst of catching up on a pair of Hamlet movies so I don’t get yelled at for clogging up the Netflix queue.

I watched the Olivier version last night. My initial reaction can best be summed up by this factoid from Wikipedia:

Eileen Herlie, who plays Hamlet’s mother, was 28 years old when the movie was filmed. Olivier, who plays her son, was 41.

Ick.

Hamlet, um, is a student at the University of Wittemburg, people… What’s this creepy fascination to play him so old? I mean, I realize it’s a great part and all but c’mon!

Aside from the obvious age-related casting issues, I liked this filmed version all-in-all. The castle looked a wee bit too Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but then hey, it’s a play with a ghost. I’m down with that.

But what I didn’t like, however, was how the final act played out.

The King’s murder seemed like an afterthought, hardly worthy of a mention. The gory multiple stabbings were decidedly not indicated by Shakespeare’s direction.

Hamlet did not force Claudius to drink from the same cup as his mother. We don’t even get to see the reactions of either Hamlet or the King as all the underhandedness is finally avenged.

Olivier directed it. I praise him for his emphasis on the Queen, bringing out her intential act of what suggests suicide.

But I fault Olivier for staging a flat finale that seemed to be more about Hamlet’s demise and, incidentally, his last soliloquy.

My favorite casting in this filmed version was of Laertes. Unlike Horatio, who was preposterously too old as well and looked a bit like a Latin Lothario; and Ophelia, who seemed a little too blonde for my tastes.

The ghost, it should be mentioned, was superbly done.

The Mel Gibson version “airs” tonight.

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