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King Lear: Omnibus - The Historic TV Broadcast

3.7 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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King Lear

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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.

Special Features

None.

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: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B002SF9YUC
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,141 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "King Lear: Omnibus - The Historic TV Broadcast" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
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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Format: DVD
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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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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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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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
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. Although the play was mercilessly cut down to accommodate the fleeting time a commercial network would allow for a dramatic broadcast, this video record is a treat to learn what could be done with real-time, live-to-air television production, giving it an edge of immediacy and inventiveness that has just about disappeared from television today. Welles' reading of Lear is committed and brilliant with some wonderful dynamics. His is a very honest Lear. Welles had the uncanny ability to focus an appropriate performance tweaked correctly for whatever medium he was working in. He just "got it," as did most of the cast in this project. Especially interesting is the clever set design which packed a lot of location information into a few elements, apparently to accommodate the breakneck speed with which the many changeovers needed to be silently executed. The elaborate physical setting of Lear's unraveling at the mill, where his reason is ground to dust, was wonderfully ambitious. There are some huge gears symbolically turning away in that windmill. The camera blocking and operation were very well executed throughout. I would love to see live drama for video as a feature on today's Internet, perhaps the most likely medium for this rapidly fading art form. There is terrific programming potential there. This Lear would be a great piece to study as a standard for what can be done live for camera.
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