Richard III (1955)

Genres - Historical Film  |   Sub-Genres - Historical Epic, Tragedy  |   Run Time - 158 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Mike Cummings

This 1955 film offers a rare boon, the opportunity to see three of the 20th century's greatest British actors -- Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud, and Sir Ralph Richardson -- acting together in the same production. Olivier, the director and star of Richard III, overarches the film in a portrayal of Richard that ranges from impishly wicked to fiendishly diabolical. Early on, he is perversely endearing. His hooked nose, his hunched back, and his halting gait make him a quaint sideshow. Later on, he is unabashedly horrifying. His serial murders of men, women, and children make him a grotesque main attraction that, curiously, still attracts as well as repels. We like Richard, for he is more audaciously sinister and wicked than the sum of all villains since Cain. He dares to do what we all would like to do to a haughty boss or a nincompoop neighbor, if we had no conscience. Often during his performance, Olivier turns away from his interlocutors and looks directly at the audience, confiding his inmost thoughts and feelings. This visual technique works well to establish a relationship with the audience. Gielgud and Richardson support Olivier with wonderful performances. Other distinguished British actors -- including Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Claire Bloom, and Stanley Baker -- also perform with savoir-faire. But the film is not perfect. Olivier sometimes takes unnecessary liberties with Shakespeare's text. Also, because the production was filmed in Technicolor, the reds and blues and yellows scream for attention in their vividness, often overpowering the importance of a dagger or a menacing smile. Nevertheless, Richard III is an extraordinary film that will likely survive the test of time.