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    Richard III (1955) Blu-ray Review

    Blu-ray Criterion

    Apr 14 2013 12:46 PM | Matt Hough in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    Laurence Olivier’s third filmed version of a Shakespeare play Richard III isn’t as wholly cinematic and atmospheric as his brilliant Hamlet, but the acting is so good and the adaptation of the play so adept that it really doesn’t matter. Gathering together some of the finest English-speaking actors of his day performing one of the earliest and most popular of Shakespearean history plays makes this film one for the ages. One wouldn’t wish much about this project any different.

    Title Info:

    • Studio: Criterion
    • Distributed By: N/A
    • Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
    • Audio: English PCM 1.0 (Mono)
    • Subtitles: English SDH
    • Rating: Not Rated
    • Run Time: 2 Hr. 38 Min.
    • Package Includes: Blu-ray
    • Case Type: Amray case
    • Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
    • Region: A
    • Release Date: 04/23/2013
    • MSRP: $39.95

    The Production Rating: 4.5/5

    Richard Duke of Gloucester (Laurence Olivier) covets the crown of England, but there is a line of heirs ahead of him to claim the title should its current occupant his brother, the weak and sickly King Edward IV (Cedric Hardwicke), expire. Edward has two young sons Edward (Paul Huson) and Richard (Andy Shine), and Richard himself has an older brother George Duke of Clarence (John Gielgud) who would inherit after them, so Richard begins a succession of ploys to get rid of his rivals. As he picks off his adversaries one by one with the help of his cousin the Duke of Buckingham (Ralph Richardson), he’s also interested in wooing the recently widowed Lady Anne (Claire Bloom) whose husband and father Richard has likewise killed. But various forces led by Lord Stanley (Laurence Naismith) begin to see that these deaths are happening too quickly and coincidentally that are allowing Richard a quick line to the throne and attempt to find ways to bring him down.

    Laurence Olivier not only has produced, directed, and starred in the film, but he’s also adapted the play with Alan Dent. There is major cutting involved to get the play down to two-and-a-half hours while also filling in historical background by adding scenes from Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part III and some lines of his own composition. But unless one is thoroughly conversant with the Shakespeare text, the adaptation is smoothly and sleekly accomplished, and what’s been cut isn’t much missed. Olivier has filmed a majority of the film on soundstage sets (only the Bosworth Field climax has been filmed outdoors and has something of an epic feel to it), and he’s staged and shot many of the scenes in long takes retaining a more theatrical feel for the words. On the other hand, he’s cleverly added some cinematic touches, too (numerous shadow motifs which he employs throughout, several ghostly apparitions which appear before the final battle) which add richness and some movie-like flair. The character of Richard is such a shockingly scheming charlatan, such an over-eager murderous chameleon who doesn’t give a second thought to the monstrous behavior he employs to get what he wants that his colorful sociopath gives the play (and film) a riotously vivid focal point that offers the audience that familiar “man you love to hate” that has always been a popular dramatic creation.

    And Olivier plays him to a fare-thee-well. Yes, he’s got a humpback, a limp, a long snipe nose, and an unusual page boy bob hair style that helps him maintain focus by standing out from the crowd, but those are externals easily accomplished. It’s the innards which draw us in and hold our attention, and this fascinating monster is one of Olivier’s greatest creations. Having first played it on stage in 1944, he waited over a decade to bring it to film, but this great performance was easily worth the wait: a fascinating combination of evil and ego that has few peers. John Gielgud’s Clarence has been cut down considerably from the original play in terms of the part’s length, but his brief few scenes still establish him as an appealingly innocent dupe to his malevolent brother, and the actor delivers the lines exquisitely. Ralph Richardson as Buckingham likewise schemes along with Richard but without his supremely cutthroat nature so that when Richard turns on him, the actor makes the shock of it superbly felt. Claire Bloom maneuvers carefully and well the very tricky role of Anne who must actively loathe and then love Richard in almost the blink of an eye. Stanley Baker makes an earnest, blissfully young and fresh Henry Tudor who is destined to be the next king. In fact, all of the casting is aces apart from the youthful Paul Huson who has trouble with the musicality of the lines and emoting as the Prince of Wales.

    Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA

    The film’s British VistaVision theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 is faithfully rendered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The restoration has brought the film to crystal-clear life with outstanding sharpness and vivid, luscious color (with reds particularly bright and rich) featuring completely realistic flesh tones. Apart from one scene added back into the film and a few random shots all of which appear softer and more digital in nature, the images are pristine and extremely impressive. Black levels are superb, and shadow detail is often quite wonderful. The film has been divided into 32 chapters.

    Audio Rating: 4/5

    The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix is very much a product of its era, but apart from some low level hiss which can be heard in the quietest scenes, fidelity is very good (not much bass though), and dialogue is never sacrificed for sound effects or William Walton’s music score.

    Special Features: 4/5

    Audio commentary: Russell Lees offers a scholarly and most interesting assessment of the film with additional comments periodically from Shakespearean scholar John Wilders.

    Great Acting (47:46, HD): a 1966 episode from the television series features Laurence Olivier interviewed by critic Kenneth Tynan. Olivier discusses his early life, his ambitions for his acting career, and his introduction to Shakespeare. Excerpts from his Shakespeare films (but not from his other film work) are shown.

    Restoration Demonstration (8:15, HD): Martin Scorsese narrates the story of the film’s restoration with many before and after shots offered to explain the problems being dealt with.

    Production Gallery: a step-through gallery of stills and behind-the-scenes shots using excerpts from Olivier’s autobiographical On Acting to caption the pictures.

    TV Trailer (12:42, HD): a specially prepared television preview (in black and white) of the film featuring excerpts from the movie.

    Theatrical Trailer (3:06, HD)

    18-Page Booklet: offers cast and crew lists, some color stills from the film, and film writer Amy Taubin’s celebratory essay on the movie.

    Timeline: can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.

    Overall Rating: 4.5/5

    Another of Laurence Olivier’s great Shakespearean adaptations, Richard III features the producer-writer-director-star at the top of his craft playing with a host of the best of British theater at the time. The Blu-ray update of Criterion’s original DVD issue offers a jaw-dropping high definition transfer that admirers of the movie will simply have to have. Highly recommended!

    Reviewed by: Matt Hough
    Support HTF when you buy this title:


    Great review. Quite looking forward to this Blu-ray.

    Great to have another VistaVision title on Blu-ray. Pity it's not available in the UK as a region B release.

    I'm looking forward to this one as well. I need another Criterion half off sale!

    I'm looking forward to this one as well. I need another Criterion half off sale!


    Hear, hear.

    Now is there any chance that Branagh's "Henry V" will get a blu-ray upgrade? The current-and ONLY-DVD is marred by dirt specs and a jittery tranfer. Definitely showing its age. Sent from my LG-LG855 using Home Theater Forum mobile app

    Really enjoying this one so far!

    Thanks for the review, I just ordered my BD.

    I like to see a release of the 1995 version on BD as well.  That was a quite imaginative presentation, and I thought Ian McKellan was very good.

    Thank you for the review. This is my favorite Olivier Shakespeare adaptation and maybe my favorite filmed Shakespeare period. I would also love to have the Ian McKellen adaptation too--it was marvelous as well. If only Criterion someone could get the rights to Chimes at Midnight/Falstaff . . .

    I have just received the Network (UK) blu-ray. I assume it is the same transfer as the Criterion as it looks quite beautiful.