The Beggar's Opera (1953)

Genres - Drama, Musical  |   Run Time - 94 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

A strange but fascinating and entertaining curio, The Beggar's Opera is not for all tastes but will prove irresistible to aficionados of musicals, especially those with a knowledge of musical theater history. The John Gay piece from which the film is adapted is a classic of the English stage, never out of the repertory for very long and quite popular with audiences, even if this film version did not repeat the stage play's success. Director Peter Brook has added an unnecessary framing device -- it doesn't really add to the piece, but it also doesn't really damage it -- and has cut a bit too much of Gay's original dialogue in order to express things in more cinematic terms, but all in all, he has respected the material. Certainly the spirit of the original has been well retained. As MacHeath, Laurence Olivier proves himself an uncertain singer, but he's a tremendous amount of fun, mocking the derring-do aspects of his character while still making them believable; he walks the fine line between satire and seriousness that the material demands without making a false step, as does most of the cast. There's sterling work from Stanley Holloway, George Devine, and the delicious Athene Seyler, and Dorothy Tutin is a very pleasing Polly. Brook and his cinematographer, Guy Green, have painted the picture in bold, dazzling colors, and there's a liveliness to the whole proceedings that is contagious.