Synopsis by Mark Deming
In 1912, Frederick Warde, a respected actor on the legitimate stage, who, over the course of a long career, had worked opposite the likes of Edwin Booth, this time lends his talents to the still creatively fledgling medium of the motion pictures. Drawing upon his triumphant stage performance in the title role of William Shakespeare's Richard III, Warde and his fellow players gave the story a new interpretation, performing the classic tragedy of the deformed and unscrupulous king in pantomime for the then-silent cameras. Within a decade of its release, this early screen version of Richard III was believed to have been lost, with no prints surviving, but in 1996 a private film collector discovered a copy, which was then donated to the American Film Institute. The AFI archivally restored Richard III and commissioned a new orchestral score, written by Ennio Morricone. The film now has the distinction of being the oldest feature-length motion picture to survive intact and is historically invaluable both as an example of early cinema and as a look at acting and theatrical production techniques of the turn of the century.