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Richard Burton's Hamlet

4.1 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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(Aug 17, 1999)
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Editorial Reviews

Richard Burton stars and Sir John Gielgud directs William Shakespeare's play of the Danish Prince. This is a "Hamlet" acted in rehearsal clothes, stripped of all extraneous trappings, so the beauty of the language and imagery could shine through. Filmed during an actual Broadway performance, to be shown in movie theaters for two days only, the prints were contractually ordered destroyed, but Burton sent one to the British Film Institute, and kept one print at home, located by his widow Sally in 1988; here then is the complete Burton "Hamlet" in all its vocal power and glory.

Special Features

  • Includes Unseen Interview Footage

Product Details

  • Actors: Richard Burton, Hume Cronyn, Alfred Drake, Eileen Herlie, William Redfield
  • Directors: Bill Colleran, John Gielgud
  • Writers: William Shakespeare
  • Producers: Alexander H. Cohen, Alfred W. Crown, John Heyman, William Sargent Jr.
  • Format: Black & White, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Image Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: August 17, 1999
  • Run Time: 191 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00000JMON
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #146,361 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Richard Burton's Hamlet" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Timothy Haugh VINE VOICE on August 19, 2001
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Who could resist listening to Richard Burton perform Hamlet? Shakespeare is about the poetry and the heart of poetry is the voice in which it is spoken. Burton's voice gives a life and passion to the role which is wonderful. Add to his the voices of John Gielgud as the ghost and Hume Cronyn as Polonius and what more could a person want?
How about seeing it? Granted, the film quality here is not up to the standards of a modern audience. First of all, this is a recording of an actual Broadway performance and not a true film so the lighting is bad and there aren't as many close-ups as one would expect in a movie. But the darkness and black and white filming actually give the show a moodiness appropriate to the story of Hamlet. Still, there are moments where facial expressions are difficult to make out because of distance and lighting; however, there are also moments of extreme beauty.
On the whole, whatever one might think of the filming, there are a number of good performances here. Burton is, of course, wonderful despite the fact that he leans a little more towards madness than I read into the character. Cronyn plays Polonius with an intelligence often missing in actors who see this character as an old fool. Linda Marsh makes a good attempt at Ophelia which may be the most difficult female character in the Shakespearean canon but it is not definitive. None of the characters was weak so the overall effect is wonderful.
The staging of this version is also worthy of noting. It is done on an almost bare stage with the actors in modern "street clothes." Many people dislike this kind of minimalist theatre but I enjoy it. It takes the focus away from the set and puts it on the actors, where it belongs.
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Format: DVD
This is simply one of the greatest performances of Hamlet ever presented on the Broadway stage, or any stage for that matter. Richard Burton is phenomenal with kudos to Hume Cronyn for his Polonius. Because of the brilliance of the performance and the historical importance of this recording, the poor video quality is forgivable. This film was beleived lost for many years, and it is a joy to see its re-release on DVD.
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4 stars for presentation, 5 stars for performance. I can remember listening to Richard Burton's great HAMLET performance on the Columbia Records Broadway cast album (unfortunatly unavailable on CD).Now I can see him perform in this record of one of the Broadway perfomances. It was worth the long wait. Having been informed that this film was destroyed only to have resurface on this DVD is great news. Unfortunatly the technical aspects of the film are wanting, oftened resembling an old TV Kinoscope. The DVD format does not improve the picture or sound much. Still it is watchable and Burton's great performance (along with the rest of the cast)make it extremely worth while. Maybe now Columbia (or Sony)will reissue the stereo cast album so that the two will complement each other.
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I have seen every filmed version of `Hamlet' there is and untold stage perfomances and never - never - have I been so thoroughly convinced of the reality of the drama as I am with this version. Taped during a live stage performance in `64, directed by Gielgud (who first interpreted the role realistically), this film offers brilliant work by Hume Cronyn, Alfred Drake and Linda Marsh - but most of all by Richard Burton who delivers the lines as though they are being spoken for the first time. The entire production has that same quality though - it's the first `Hamlet' I've ever seen where I genuinely felt sorry when Polonius is killed and where I've laughed at the `fishmonger' scene. In black & white, it is certainly not as `showy' as some other filmed versions - but I don't believe there is one better.
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I first saw this version of the play in Electronovision, a copy owned by Gary Essert at UCLA in the 60's. As a young theater director with an inordinate love of Shakespeare, I was bowled over by this pared down, black-rehearsal-dress, few props, no frills (and very little "attitude") interpretation of one of the most complex plays in human literature. This play makes the exquisite agonies of it's very fallible human characters available to modern people: the contemplation of suicide, and the nature of honor, revenge, family responsibility, the existence of God and the Devil, death, friensdhip, romantic and profane love. All are laid out in a very human and personal interpretation of Shakespeare. This version of the play demonstrates the magic of Shakespeare's language, that this poetry can still move us 400-plus years later. And Richard Burton, at the height of his powers, not yet ruined by drink and sexual excesses (woweee!). We see ourselves in this strangely postmodern man: concerned, intellectual, deeply feeling, balancing between cynicism and lyricism. With powers of speech far beyond that of most of us mere mortals, he inhabits the stage so completely and with such force that we anticipate seeing (and hearing) him again. These people really did their homework, and they truly understood what the word "ensemble" means; all complete the picture, support the story and work together to give us a clear idea of what this play can mean in the 21st century. I can still hear his voice now. With "flights of angels" singing him to his rest.
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