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Laurence Olivier , Jean Simmons , Laurence Olivier    Unrated   DVD
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
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Winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor, Sir Laurence Olivier's Hamlet continues to be the most compelling version of Shakespeare's beloved tragedy. Olivier is at his most inspired-both as director and as the melancholy Dane himself-as he breathes new life into the words of one of the world's greatest dramatists. Criterion is proud to present Hamlet in a luminous black-and-white digital transfer.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The play's the thing. May 4 2005
"Hamlet belongs into the theater," says Mel Gibson, the star of the tragedy's 1990 adaptation by Franco Zeffirelli, in an interview on that movie's DVD. And while primarily expressing regret over a lacking opportunity to explore the role's complexities by nightly slipping into the prince's skin on stage, he also has a point regarding any screen adaptation's validity: the many facets of Hamlet's character have, after all, been debated by literature's greatest minds since the Bard's very own time. For that reason, too, any newcomer is well-advised to first read the play - not see it on stage, nor watch any of the myriad movie versions - but keep an open mind and let the Bard's words speak for themselves. All these centuries later, Shakespeare alone still remains the one true authority on Hamlet's character; and while reading, too, necessarily creates an interpretation in the reader's mind that others may or may not agree with (as does any staging of the complete tragedy), the interpretative element is enhanced even more if this complex play is reduced to somewhat over half its length to comply with cinematic necessities. Nothing proves this better than Sir Laurence Olivier's 1948 movie, which won him Best Director and Best Actor Academy Awards, in addition to the film's Best Costume Design and Best Set Decoration honors.
Without question, in his day Olivier was considered *the* quintessential Hamlet; the actor who owned the role like none before and few, if any, afterwards; not least because of this movie and his participation in the 1937 Helsingor (= Elsinore) staging.
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4.0 out of 5 stars One of Olivier's best Nov. 2 2009
I have now seen Olivier's Shakesperean roles in As You Like It, Richard III, King Lear, and Hamlet. Other than Richard III, where he played a perfectly devilish Richard, this would be my favourite Olivier role. He captures the prince's intelligence, wit, and melancholy. The other actors offer solid performances too and the directing and choice of set (a very creepy, gloomy Elsinore) are also brilliant.

The only reason I wouldn't give this play 5 stars as I do the Branaugh and Burton versions is because of the large cuts made to the text. While I certainly understand wanting to make some cuts, particularly in a play this long, some of the cuts are just too drastic. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are gone...completely. A few of Hamlet's key soliloquies, such as "Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I..." and "what a creature is man...", are also completely gone. Some of these soliloquies are key to understanding Hamlet's character. Again, I understand why directors may want to make SOME cuts. Branaugh's four hour movie may be too long for some viewers (not for a bard addict like me). Burton's version at just over 3 hours is an excellent example of a version in which cuts were made where key soliloquies and characters were not eliminated.

Still, despite that complaint, this is still an excellent production of Hamlet and I would reccommend it to anyone who appreciates superb acting.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Olivier is fantastic! May 6 2004
A film by Laurence Olivier
The word "masterpiece" is thrown around far too often these days, but for years I have heard that this version of "Hamlet" is Olivier's masterpiece. Recently I had the opportunity to see this masterpiece and for the first time I saw Olivier at work. I was impressed with what I saw. To the modern ear, Shakespearean language can sound awkward and archaic, but with Olivier, much of the dialogue sounded like easy conversation.
I once heard "Hamlet" described as the most structurally perfect play, that every action stems directly from something else in the play and that every action happened in that particular way because it had to, that there was no other way for the actions to work out. I am not enough of a Shakespeare scholar to be able to really speak to this, but I do know that when done well, "Hamlet" is a fascinating play, and a fascinating film. Olivier succeeded at doing this play well.
The story is one that is well known. Hamlet (Laurence Olivier) is a prince of Denmark. His father had died a month prior, and Queen Gertrude (Eileen Herlie) married the dead king's brother, Claudius (Basil Sydney). Hamlet has been brooding, unable to accept either his father's death or his mother's rather quick remarriage. This continues until Hamlet sees the ghost of his father, who tells him that he was murdered, and that the murderer is now sitting on the throne of Denmark. As a character said early in the film, "something is rotten in the state of Denmark." Hamlet must avenge his father, but in such a way that he can get away with it. As he begins to plot, he pretends to be mad (crazy), so that his excesses can be excused away. So begins the story.
This is an impressive movie, from the acting to the set design.
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4.0 out of 5 stars "Dead for a ducket! Dead!!!" April 27 2004
With those words spoken with a maniacal glare, Lawrence Olivier had my complete attention. He is both director and the lead in this classic version of the celebrated play. The direction is smart, reminiscent at times of visual techniques used in "Citizen Kane." Praise, indeed! However, his acting performance is frustrating. He speaks softly, letting the poetry of the language speak for itself, then has a brilliant moment or exceptional scene, only to blaze sensationalistic at the wrong times. One such instance was just after Hamlet slays Polonius. Olivier cries out at the top of his voice, "Is it the King?!" Hamlet states early in the play that he is only playing at madness. Why is he then drawing so much attention to his bloody actions when we all know he just left the King praying on a lower level? He knows it couldn't be the King. Once again, his direction is amazing, but there are some excellent examples of why actors should not direct themselves. Seriously, who's going to tell them their performance needs work? Another scene that had me scratching my head was after the "players" first arrive. Why does Olivier pull the lead player aside, telling him that he has lines for him to memorize, only to have the "play-within-a-play" enacted without any words at all? He should have cut that earlier scene, or let the players have their lines.

The meeting with Hamlet's ghost is incredibly creepy here, with trick camera work, an eerie score, great special effects, and a thudding heart-beat announcing the ghost's arrival. This is my favorite version of this particular scene.
Jean Simmons looks very pretty here, and she does have her moments, but there are better portrayals of Ophelia in other renditions of the play.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Good rendering of Hamlet!
Lawrence Olivier's rendition of the imfamous Dane is quite good, I enjoyed the movie very much!
Published 2 months ago by geo
1.0 out of 5 stars Unviewable
Unfortunately, I can't view this DVD: it's in the wrong format, even though I am almost sure I checked this before I bought it. Read more
Published on Feb. 16 2011 by Paula Sperdakos
4.0 out of 5 stars Another good Lawrence Olivier adaptation of Shakespeare
This review is for the Criterion Collection DVD edition of the film.
In this release Olivier's second adaptation of a Shakespeare play, Olivier again plays the title role. Read more
Published on May 30 2004 by Ted
4.0 out of 5 stars Overplayed but still classic
This used to be the definitive "Hamlet," but I fear it has become quite dated with its painfully obvious Freudian interpretation of the characters and their... Read more
Published on Feb. 5 2004 by Daniel S. Russell
4.0 out of 5 stars Best Vesion Of Hamlet
I watched this with pure pleasure, enjoying every minute of it. Although Laurence Olivier at forty had been criticized (rightly) as too old for the part of Hamlet, the soliloquy:... Read more
Published on Dec 31 2003
Criterion laserdiscs used to be top of the line. Their transfers were solid and their committment to extra features very compelling. Read more
Published on Oct. 25 2003 by Nix Pix
3.0 out of 5 stars overrated
the text is butchered worse than elsewhere. And Olivier is just not the best Hamlet. The thunder during the tobeornotobe soliloquy that accomponies "ay theres the rub" and him... Read more
Published on Oct. 19 2003 by supastar
5.0 out of 5 stars THE BEST OF CLASSICS
A few weeks ago I felt like watching a classic movie. The movie rental store offered a wide selection of classics but I remembered Hamlet with Sir Laurence Olivier from many years... Read more
Published on June 24 2003 by Boris Zubry
5.0 out of 5 stars The indispensable film version
There have been many film Hamlets and Sir Laurence, even after he won the Academy Award for his performance here, felt that he was far from ideal. Read more
Published on May 27 2003 by J. Ott
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