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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
True, you have to get past the blackface make-up, the bright red lips, the false eyelashes; but once that surface is accepted, a great performance is there to be appreciated. Olivier is the blackest Othello I've ever seen, the most 'African', in his movements, the wilds of his emotion, the warrior-like curses and threats as he beats his chest and curses his fate. Many thought it was a ham acting, excruciatingly over the top; for me it was a courageous, dangerous performance, walking the line between terror and pity throughout. His voice is astonishing and his delivery unique and musical and frightening and tender. I thought it was his bravest, and greatest, performance. I'm glad it was recorded as a filmed play and not 'opened up' as a movie, which would have diluted the intensity of the performance. Highly recommended, with the above caveats about the makeup.
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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2007
I wrote my AP English essay junior year in high school about the Moor of Venice. I have seen every version of this play that has ever been committed to film, which is no small feat for a woman who adores the Bard as I do. I am an African American woman and I have heard about the fact that some think that his portrayal of the moor to be stereotypical, well, I don't think so. I think that there is nothing so sweeping as the way that he brings this play to life, Othello is not my favorite Shakespeare play, possibly the third favorite but there is something in the truth of Othello that I think is deeply stirring, it is the truth of self-esteem. He thinks himself a lowly creature, despite the fact that he is a great general and is acclaimed by many even the trials that he has been through in his life. Olivier makes you feel that, he wrung tears from me the frist time that I saw him in this performance, like a floodgate, I wanted to hold this wounded man to my heart, he was flawless and seamless, I lost Olivier in this movie, he was purely the character. I think that if I were trying to get someone to understand the subtle nature of Othello this would be the performance that I would suggest, I am so glad that I saw it one night on cable when I could sleep. He outshines all others who have attempted this part, ALL OTHERS. I mean I have seen the Laurence Fishburne portrayal and its good and it has its moments but this one is amazing. I didn't notice his lips being red really, but when you are that dark, the inner part of your lips are redder by contrast. When I saw it I was floored, his voice,the sheer emotion, glorious.
I am going to buy this version because I think it belongs on the shelf with my four and a half hour version of Hamlet.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2004
This is Olivier's finest performance, although Archie Rice runs it close. Anyone even minimally familiar with Shakespeare criticism knows that, as the play is written, the Moor's tragic flaw is not that he is prone to jealousy, but that he over-dramatizes his self-image. He exaggerates his role in life as a great military commander, with excessive rhetorical relish, and sees himself as a man for whom personal honour and glory are of greater intrinsic importance than anything else, including love, loyalty and forgiveness. This is why and how Iago succeeds in making such a fool of him.

The role itself is therefore ideally suited to Olivier's over-the-top theatrical style. To complain that this is a filmed stage play is idiotic, since it never pretends to be anything else. That is exactly what it sets out to be: a permanent record on film of a stage production. It is also idiotic to protest that Olivier is a white man playing the part in black make-up: that is how Shakespeare wrote it, 400 years ago, and there is nothing that can now be done to alter it, like it or not.

Olivier's performance is utterly compelling. Only the semi-literate, or those with the aesthetic sensitivity of a rhinoceros, can fail to be gripped and transfixed by this superb interpretation of one of the most diabolically well-written masterpieces of European theatre. It is interesting to note that such is Shakespeare's genius for stage-craft that even modern ten-year-old American kids (of normal intelligence) can easily follow the development of the drama, in spite of the apparently archaic language.

Finlay's Iago and Redman's Emilia match Olivier. Maggie Smith's Desdemona is very fine, although I see the role played by someone just a touch more delicate and vulnerable. The stage direction is masterly, and the few simple sets are also excellently conceived. Shakespeare's tragedies are, by their very nature, overpowering works: Olivier understands the timing and significance of every word, and delivers the lines in a manner entirely appropriate to their original creation. I haven't seen all the other Othellos by the many other actors, but can only suspect that their performances, whether by white players or black, must fade and pale by comparison.

These comments relate to the BHE dvd version, digitally remastered by Warner, which also includes a fragmentary interview with Anthony Hopkins, cast profiles, as well as a brief account of Shakespeare's sources for the play, and its theatrical history.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 1999
Laurence Olivier's interpretation of Othello in this production is outstanding. His black paint, heavily Negroid make-up, careful imitation of West Indian gait & gesture, astonishing vocal inventiveness, and precise accent (not to mention his hilarious laugh) coalesce to create perhaps his best performance. Unlike some other Othellos, Olivier created an essentially narcissistic and very self-dramatizing outsider (you'll be swept away by many of his heightened speeches). Maggie Smith, Fred Finlay, and Joyce Redman were also very good. All Olivier fans and Othello fans, this is a must buy!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2011
I've been using this film of OTHELLO for about ten years to teach the play. I used to play the video tape, and I remember seeing the movie when it came out in the 60s. I didn't like it much then, but I was much too young. I remember that I didn't like the big, empty studio spaces up on the movie screen, but they are diminished by the TV screen to a more comfortable size. The main thing in this production, however, is the acting, which is the best overall out of about four major versions (I own them all). Olivier is commanding and very great for at least half the film. The problem is that Olivier is over-acting in the second half of the film, which begins in the play in Act 3, Scene 3, around line 427; however, he recovers balance and is intermittently magnificent till the end, but a' still rages and foams a' th' mouth too much. In fact, in the video OLIVIER, A LIFE, he's critical of his performance himself. However, my students over the past ten years have liked this version best because it contains the clearest, most easily understood acting and speaking that they saw out of several ones I tried in class. Every line is spoken as if this is the way people speak, dispite the four hundred or so years that have passed since this play was written in a language which is the most dynamic and constantly changing of all Western languages. All gestures are pointedly used to underline meaning, and there is a physical energy throughout which is palpable. It's actually more engaging of your attention than most of the other, even newer, versions.

A friend and colleague of mine said he didn't like Olivier here because his acting reminded him of "Some guy from Jamaica," and some of my students, many of whom are from Jamaica, still laugh at Olivier's rather dark makeup, even though I warn them beforehand that this production is from the 60s and that it used to be common for English actors to play Othello in greasepaint, though some more recent ones have dealt with the ambiguous nature of the Moor's race (the "black" he calls himself is, after all, relative) by not making him a black African at all, since a Moor could certainly be from Libya on the "Barbary Coast" (as in Desdemona's old servant Barbary). Some of my students also laugh at Olivier's overacting, though I try to explain it away by telling them that he was playing this role on the stage at the same time he made this movie, and that he forgot to tone down his acting when he got in front of the cameras. Recently, however, I had a student who thought that everything Olivier does is logical, based on the text, and, of course, he's right, in a way. In the end,though, most of my students prefer this version for the reasons I've already mentioned, and I agree with them. It may not be perfect, but none of the other versions are either, and Olivier's Othello is still one of the best because he inhabits the role better than anyone else, even Orson Wells in his classic movie based on the play (which has the second best Iago in Micheal MacLaimmoir, and an excellent Desdemona in Suzanne Cloutier).

Of the other cast members, the best, most memorable (and perhaps the most perfect of the whole cast) is Frank Finlay as Iago, who may be the greatest Iago on film or video. He may even be better than Ian Mckellen in the excellent BBC production directed by Trevor Nunn in 1989. That TV version also has the most intellegent choice for Desdemona in Imogen Stubbs since she really looks the part of the probably young girl who falls in love with and marries the Moor. However, Maggie Smith is passable here as Olivier's Desi, and Derek Jacobi is certainly good in what may be his first film role, as Cassio, while Joyce Redman is outstanding and passionate as Emilia.

The other versions I like include Orson Wells's 1952 movie version, the 1989 BBC production mentioned above, the 1981 BBC production directed by Colin Lowrey with Anthony Hopkins (some don't like Hopkins's very underplayed performance, the exact antithesis of Olivier's, but it's well-done, I think), and I even sometimes like the 1995 movie with Kenneth Branaugh, although it's perhaps not in the same class as the others.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2005
I had seen Kozintsev's King Lear years ago and was very impressed but only saw this film recently after ordering the DVD. The DVD transfer is excellent, much better than the King Lear DVD available from the same company. The film has very high production values and an amazing score by the still controversial Shostokovich. itself is an ear opener. This interpretation is very much about Hamlet as an action hero, and Kosintesev conveys the force and limits of Hamlet's agency with amazing economy. Claudius's speech begins the film after shots of the ocean (quoting form Olivier's film of Hamlet) Hamlet racing back for the funeral, and a soldier reads the speech as a proclamation to the crowd outside. We cut to the court where ambassadors and courtiers are translating it into German and French, and then arrive in the courtroom where Claudius finishes it. We see Hamlet listening at the beginning of this shot, but after Laertes and Claudius speak and Claudius addresses Hamlet, we track back to his chair and see that it is empty. Ophelia, through the soundtrack music, becomes an increasingly mechanical dancer as she goes mad. This is very much a political interpretation of the play, with no close ups (like Kurosawa's Throne of Blood) and it is refreshing to see this perspective on the screen. Anyone seriously interested in Hamlet and / or in Hamlet on film should see this wonderful film. Note: the DVD comes with various language tracks and subtitles. It's a great edition.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2003
olivier is simply amazing in the role of othello. i don't think anyone else - not derek jacobi, ian mckelen, not even kenneth branaugh - could have transformed themselves into such a convincing black man. i think olivier's othello is one of the great performances in all of film. my only gripe with this version is that i felt olivier overplayed the part at times. i know that othello is a passionate man caught up in an emotional whirlwind, but the histrionics were a bit much. otherwise, an excellent adaptation of shakespeare's play.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2007
I'm essentially of 2 minds about this film. On the one hand, I was consistently impressed by the sheer inventiveness of Olivier's use of the text. The only word which really suffices is "musical". He really made the verse come to life, elegantly, even terrifyingly at times. His Othello is larger than life and completely overshadows the others. The scene where he subdues a man (does he strangle him?) with one hand is magnificent.

On the other hand, I am not the least bit bothered by a white man playing the role of a black man in a play like this (surely the first Othello was a white man and the point is that Othello is an outsider, a foreigner, and different; maybe a production should use a white Othello surrounded by black Venetians and Cypriots); it is called ACTING. However, I found Olivier just a little, how shall I say this?, trying too hard to be an Afro-Caribbean. I cannot believe that Othello should sound a little like a Jamaican. I would add that the makeup is stage makeup, so being offended by the large red lips and long lashes is a little silly. It is done that way so that the facial features can be seen from many feet away in the theater. It might have been a good idea to consider toning it down for the film.

If you love Shakespeare, give this a try. Like all masterpieces it lends itself to many, many valid interpretations. This is more than a filmed play, but something less than a movie. Although I would add that with such fine acting (from everyone in the cast), I was not really looking at the sets and costumes. Just as in opera where the music and words are enough to create a mood and drive a plot, the words and their intense and majestic declamation are enough here.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2002
This is the only Shakespearean film I have yet seen in which the acting is truly excellent in every role. I read that it was filmed after a long run as a stage production, which helps to explain the ease with which these actors perform. It is shot with minimal sets and scenery, which makes this film almost like watching the actual stage version.
The text is well preserved, with minimal cuts and/or placing lines out of order (a technique well loved by Welles), and there is no soundtrack, save for music that happens on stage. Again, the acting is first rate in every instance.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2008
I'm teaching Shakespeare and, simultaneously, going backward through the career of Laurence Olivier: first King Lear, then Othello, then Hamlet. To see a man whom you would not look at twice in the supermarket transform himself into the painfully deluded Lear, the obsessed Othello, and the beautiful Hamlet is a privilege worthy of many a long wait. Thanks to this DVD neither I nor my students have to wait nor buy a ticket on a time machine to return to London in 1965. Incomparable. Yes, I know Fishbourne did an admirable version. But Olivier's version is close to the stage and imaginatively directed. His Othello is essential as a beginning point. And the performances of the rest of the cast, especially that of Frank Finlay as Iago, are consistent with Olivier's demands upon himself as actor and director.
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