Directed by: Stuart Burge (Julius Caesar)
Starring: Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Frank Finlay, Derek Jacobi, Joyce Redman, Robert Lang
Stuart Burge’s impossibly stagebound and rather stuffy direction all but kills the dramatic value of the Laurence Olivier Othello (1965). (In a few years Burge would achieve his apparent aim of actually embalming the Bard—with an assist from Charlton Heston—with Julius Caesar.) As filmmaking, almost any other version of the play—particularly Orson Welles’ 1952 film—is a better bet, but this version does preserve Olivier’s Othello and Frank Finlay’s Iago, and is worth noting for that. Once you get past Olivier in blackface (somehow more jarring than Welles) and his reliance on his bag of tricks and distractions (like playing much of the first scene smelling a rose), it’s impossible not to realize that, for all his faults, Olivier was an actor of great power, deserving of at least most of his immense reputation. Finlay’s Iago may even be better, though he occasionally seems defeated by the leaden direction—something that doesn’t faze Olivier. For the acting, the film has its points. As a movie, it’s strictly canned theater of the sort that gets shown to high school English classes.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show Othello at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 10, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville).