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King Lear: Omnibus - The Historic TV Broadcast (1953)

Orson Welles , Alan Badel , Peter Brook , Andrew McCullough  |  NR |  DVD
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Orson Welles, Alan Badel, Beatrice Straight, Bramwell Fletcher, Scott Forbes
  • Directors: Peter Brook, Andrew McCullough
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: E1 Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: February 9, 2010
  • Run Time: 73 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B002SF9YUC
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #154,816 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "King Lear: Omnibus - The Historic TV Broadcast" on IMDb

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

Shot live for the prestigious Omnibus series, Orson Welles masterfully plays the title role in the Shakespearean classic about a beleaguered king who is betrayed by the greed of his daughters. Broadcast live on CBS.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
54 of 54 people found the following review helpful
E1 Entertainment (formerly Koch Home Video) partnered last year with the Archive of American Television to release some extremely rare television shows from their archives on home video. Nearly all of these shows have not been seen by the public since they were broadcast over 50 years ago! Thanks to both early videotape and Kinescopes (live TV broadcasts preserved on film) we are able to re-live what were originally one-time performances. This DVD is one such event.

Actor/Write/Director (and more!) Orson Welles love Shakespeare and mounted many of Shakespeare's classics. In the early days of TV, in the 1950s, Shakespeare was not something the average viewer was expecting to see. And certainly not with the great Welles, who was living in England at that time.

TV was still in its infancy then and experimenting with its programming. This was a time when there were fewer distractions and other entertainment options for the American public. So CBS (under William Paley) created a 90-minute "arts magazine" to be broadcast on Sunday afternoons - remember there were no regular sports broadcasts then - hosted by Britisher Alistair Cooke. It was called "Omnibus". For its third season they came up with a real gem. Welles would make his American TV debut in a 90-minute production of "King Lear", directed by the then 29 year old British Director Peter Brook. Brook's wife, Natasha Parry, would play Cordelia. The sponsors would become "subscribers" so there would be no commercial breaks. And, the script would be revised - leaving out all the subplots - so the actual production ran only 78 minutes! On October 11, 1953 the show aired. And it has not been since - until this release.

E1 has gone the extra step in putting together this package.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful broadcast, so-so video transfer August 16, 2010
This is an effective, minimalist, abridged staging of Shakespeare's tragedy, with a thirty-something Orson Welles in the lead. Peter Brook's direction is fine and the cast is solid. Unlike the old VHS release, this DVD contains the entire broadcast, including Alistair Cooke's introductory remarks (but minus the commercials). The extras were a pleasant surprise.

The quality of the video transfer is slightly disappointing. I suspect this is an old transfer, perhaps even the one used twenty years ago in the VHS release.

The image is soft and flickery, and the movement of the characters on screen is more juddery and riddled with momentary double-exposures than you usually see in modern transfers from 1950s kinescopes. Compare the main feature on this disc against the much cleaner and more watchable images in the extras (also taken from "Omnibus" kinescopes) and you'll see what I mean. And I can't believe they didn't touch out those great big cue spots at the end of the reel. That would have been so easy to fix!

Despite this, I enjoy the program. I just wish a more watchable print were available on disc.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
Very dramatic King.Daughters hard to distinguish.Omits subplot of Edmund.Fool very effective.See madness of a king losing his power, but not the sadness of a father losing his daughters.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not complete play, but very good for TV May 29, 2013
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
As Alistair Cook explains in the introduction, this less than 90 minute production eliminates the major subplot involving the Earl of Gloucester and his two sons, Edmund and Edgar. Cook says the subplots were added to pad out a play to stretch to almost four hours, and give the principle actors a rest. What we notice, however, is that by removing that time, Lear's descent into madness goes far more quickly than we see in the full length play.

When the play opens, it seems wooden, and Welles seems to lack animation, on a throne and the camera drawn back. Business seems simplified, as all three daughters are present on stage with the opening, all in a neat row. It is only after the first act that we see a far more animated Lear, even more so than those of Lawrence Olivier and Ian McKellen. This is where the biggest difference between the production custom made for TV differs from the productions translated from live stage to the studio. Between Welles and Peter Brook, who is credited with the adaptation, much better use is made of close-ups of Welles face, and he uses that to great advantage. This production also uses more realistic scenery and costuming of the Elizabethan times.

I always pay special attention to the role of the fool in "Lear". It seems to be the second best part, especially when well played. And it always seems well played. The fool in this production is Alan Badel, who does not have a long list of movie or TV credits; however he often played leads in Shakespeare on the stage. His fool here is as good or better than the other two I have recently seen, augmented by camera work which was well adapted to TV.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uneven but still useful. November 17, 2000
Format:VHS Tape
This television version has many flaws--from actors stepping on each other's lines, to bad microphone placement, to an obviously robust Welles' proclaiming his weakness and frailty in the face of chaotic nature and bad fortune. Still, there are scenes that convey the play's meanings more straightforwardly and clearly than any you will fine in later filmizations. The crucial opening scene, for example, effectively and efficiently sets up the play in a manner that students immediately grasp. The film is still a useful teaching tool (and obviously of interest to Welles' devotees), providing one is selective in its use.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Orson Welles and a 'clipped' Lear.
Just a very quick point.
This is a highly cut version of Lear.
But to see Orson Welles in the part is even beyond a Revelation.
No words for it!!!! Read more
Published 1 month ago by Frank Braio
4.0 out of 5 stars Welles is a great Lear
I give this Four Stars for the great Orson Welles-for any thing that Welles does is great. There are also some other note worthy performances- for instance a wonderfully original... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Opera Ghost
5.0 out of 5 stars Live streaming was never better
This is a murky TV kinescope from the 1950s, so don't expect vivid picture quality, but this is a state-of-the-art video recording for its time. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Sam Cine
5.0 out of 5 stars black dalia
It is rumored that Wells was involved in the Elizabeth Short murder.

What exactly his involvement was is a guess that leaves one to wonder about the scandalous... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Jule Cornick
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent
Extras as interesting as the film, teaching a history lesson on shakespeare's reception in the context of 1950s US TV audience. Read more
Published on July 3, 2011 by Fernanda Medeiros
2.0 out of 5 stars heavily cut and overacted
This Lear is of historical interest - old TV trying to be cultured, but it is a very poor enactment of the play. Read more
Published on June 3, 2010 by Peregrine Reader
1.0 out of 5 stars Dreadful
I'm a huge Orson Welles fan. His MacBeth is still my favorite of all the versions available. But this is a disaster: horrible sound and video quality (like watching through your... Read more
Published on February 15, 2001
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