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The original cast and soul-shattering impact of the play's 1964 staging by the National Theatre of Great Britain are captured on film. As the valiant war hero swept into a maelstrom of jealousy and revenge Olivier won his seventh Academy Award nomination. The movie's Desdemona (Maggie Smith) Emilia (Joyce Redman) and 'honest Iago' (Frank Finlay) also captured Oscar nominations. And the result Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times is that 'this Othello is one of the boldest you'll ever see.'System Requirements:Running Time: 166 minsFormat: DVD MOVIE Genre: DRAMA UPC: 085391112105 Manufacturer No: 111210
Laurence Olivier's extravagant performance as the jealous Moor of Venice had its origins on stage at London's National Theatre; this 1965 film is a straight rendering of that production, shot on a soundstage with spare backdrops. However much the resulting artifact can actually be described as a film, one must feel gratitude just for the preservation of Olivier's pinwheeling turn. Yes, it's theatrical: the blackface make-up, the exotic gestures, the rumbly voice. Olivier doesn't connect organically with the character, but builds layer upon layer of effect until reaching critical mass; then his Othello explodes across the stage, keening in rage or flopping in agony. Before being encouraged to doubt his spotless wife Desdemona (Maggie Smith), Olivier's Moor flashes a broad grin that stands as a beacon of his shallow self-confidence; after the coin drops, his body hunches in misery. If Olivier dominates, this film nevertheless presents a marvelous Iago, by Frank Finlay, the evil engineer of the plot. It may just be Finlay's physical and vocal resemblance to comic Peter Cook, but he seems to embody the sarcasm and "sick" humor of the 1960s in his Iago--and his dry style is far more attuned to the movie camera than Olivier's. Olivier, Finlay, and Smith were all nominated for Oscars, as was Joyce Redman, as Iago's hapless lady. For a real shock, and a great lesson in Olivier's chameleon talent, watch Othello and then view the brief promotional film shot during filming, included on the DVD--you'll be astonished that the gray-haired gentleman, near sixty and with clunky eyeglasses, is the same volcanic performer that just erupted for 166 minutes on film. --Robert Horton
- Vintage featurette: Olivier Talks About Othello
- Theatrical trailer
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Unlike Olivier's Hamlet, the supporting cast for Othello is equally brilliant with specific emphasis on the role of Iago. Frank Finlay is absolutely mesmerizing as he radiates contempt and deceit in a role that is traditionally antagonistic to the lead, as well as every other part for that matter. Yes, he's a villain but Finlay's performance is a pleasure to watch making you understand why virtually every character in the play could be so altogether duped by his devious duplicity. Maggie Smith as Desdemona may not be the extraordinary beauty that she is repeatedly accused of, however her performance is absolutely convincing as a paragon of virtue, the most loyal, sweet and devoted Christian maiden and spouse that a medieval nobleman could have asked for which makes this play all the more tragic as Othello becomes convinced, thanks to Iago's continual whispering, of her unfaithfulness. Derek Jacobi is one of my all-time favorite actors period, and I love seeing him in a role when he's so young and vibrant playing the part of Cassio and the third victim in Iago's love-triangle scheme. Othello is more than a brilliant tactician but a dangerous and deadly warrior in his own right and everyone seems to either fear or respect him or both with the exception of the fiery Emilia, played by Joyce Redman, who ironically is unjustly accused by her husband Iago of having an adulterous relation with the Moor.
I think it's unfortunate that so many reviews of this excellent film tend to zero in on the single fact that a white man was portraying a black man which strikes me as a rather shallow, emotional reaction reflecting an almost stalinesque paranoia regarding anything that might be interpreted as racially offensive. It's absolutely ridiculous to assume that one of the greatest stage and screen actors of the 20th century couldn't play a part outside of his own ethnicity; of course he could and how Olivier arrived at his particular interpretation of Othello is irrelevant but rather a testament to his genius as well as his insight and, in my opinion, the authenticity of the makeup is "neither here nor there". Anyway, great film and please don't be turned off by PC motivated criticisms, just take it for what it is; an exceptional Shakespearean performance by an actor with greater insight into these plays than possibly any other of modern times. :o)
Frank Finlay's Iago is the centerpiece that all the other characters gravitate to. In this version we can not only see his villainy at work but the thought processes behind it. His astonishing performance takes full advantage of Shakespeare's lines. Derek Jacobi's Cassio allows us to see more of the man than I have seen in other film versions (his drunk scene is very revealing) and makes him more of a character than a pawn in Iago's scheme. Finally praise needs to be given to Robert Lang's Roderigo who is not just a two dimensional dupe. Throw in Joyce Redman's Emilia and you have the strongest overall cast that I have ever seen in the too few film versions of this play. In fact they are not only on a par with Olivier but often surpass him. It goes without saying that this movie won't be for all tastes. For those of you looking for a more modern and realistic film of OTHELLO, watch the 1995 Laurence Fishburne version and no version is more cinematic than Orson Welles' 1952 film. However for sheer acting firepower and interpretation of the text, this version can't be topped. Incidentally, standing against a column in the center of Cassio's drunk scene (and in other crowd gatherings) is none other than Michael Gambon.