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King Lear: Omnibus - The Historic TV Broadcast
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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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I love king Lear, I do love Orson Wells! But this copy, while he's excellent in it, is all dark & too monologey !! I had it for a a week & couldn't finish it, .... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Sarah
Invaluable document of great performance by dedicated Shakespearean actor/director Orson Welles. Kinescope image smeary but typical of early television recording process. Read morePublished 13 months ago by John Schofill
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
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 morePublished 19 months ago by Opera Ghost
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
Extras as interesting as the film, teaching a history lesson on shakespeare's reception in the context of 1950s US TV audience. Read morePublished on July 3, 2011 by Fernanda Medeiros
This Lear is of historical interest - old TV trying to be cultured, but it is a very poor enactment of the play. Read morePublished on June 3, 2010 by Peregrine Reader
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 morePublished on February 15, 2001