Laurence Olivier

The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fifth with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France aka Henry V (1944)

The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fifth with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France aka Henry V (1944)

(On Cable TV, February 2019) As regular readers of these reviews know, I do poorly with Shakespearian adaptations. I find the language nigh incomprehensible, the premises overly familiar, the staging artificial, etc. It takes a lot to get me to perk up at a Shakespearian adaptation, but Laurence Oliver’s Henry V does have quite a bit to offer only on a visual level, least of it being shot in colour. Perhaps the most distinctive thing about it is how it operates stylistically like an onion. The opening has a very detailed model shot of Shakespearian London, which gives place to an obviously staged theatrical production, then again to a less stylized production, then to surprisingly cinematographic battles, and then back again to the outer layers as the story wraps up. Considering that I usually spend my time watching Shakespearian productions for the visuals rather than the dialogue or story, this scratched just the right spot for me. Still, I can’t guarantee that I remained awake through it all … but while I was aware of Laurence Olivier’s skills as an actor, in Henry V he shows quite a bit of skill as a director as well.

Rebecca (1940)

Rebecca (1940)

(On DVD, September 2018) For all of his famed ability at creating and sustaining suspense, Alfred Hitchcock could have a surprisingly romantic streak at times, and few of his movies manage to combine both traits as intriguingly as in Rebecca, perhaps one of the best depiction of the Gothic romance sub-sub-genre ever put on-screen, adapted from Daphne Du Maurier’s still well-known novel. The mystery here is intensely personal, as the new wife of a rich man has trouble measuring up to the example set by her predecessor, the mistress of a vast estate who clearly still has her fans in the household help. Against the lonely and oppressive backdrop of a house far too big for its inhabitants, the heroine starts wondering who’s not out to murder her. It escalates into a fiery climax, but the point of the film, after a sunny romantic first act, is the heroine looking over her shoulder, discovering deeper secrets about her new husband and his house, and sparring with a standoffish housekeeper. Rebecca is noteworthy in Hitchcock’s oeuvre in a few respect: it was his first Hollywood project after emigrating from Great Britain; it was produced/dictated by the legendary producer David O. Selznick and it’s the only Hitchcock film to win the Best Picture Academy Award. Both Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier are quite good as the leads, but it’s Judith Anderson who has the best role as the ever-faithful Mrs. Danvers. Otherwise, Rebecca is still good fun to watch, not quite noir but definitely Gothic enough to be visually interesting on top of Hitchcock’s usually skillful direction.