The Merchant of Venice (1974)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Tragedy  |   Run Time - 120 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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This production of The Merchant of Venice, like all versions, is dogged by the character of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender who demands his due of a pound of flesh for a forfeited loan. Undoubtedly, Merchant is the most difficult of Shakespeare's works for modern audiences, largely because Shylock inspires uneasiness -- not because of his actions, which are in keeping with the villains of other Shakespeare plays, but because of his ethnicity. While things are not drawn in clear black-and-white, it is nonetheless hard to escape the conclusion that the depiction of the Shylock character is inspired by anti-Semitism, even if the level of anti-Semitism may have been perfectly acceptable when the play was written. Jonathan Miller's production chooses to confront this fact head-on, emphasizing the multitude of times that Shylock is branded with the appellation "Jew," and demonstrating that prejudice was rampant in the society in which the moneylender lived. Laurence Olivier's intense interpretation makes Shylock a fully-rounded character: a villain, yet one with whom audiences can sympathize. There is exceptional work as well from Joan Plowright (even if she is perhaps a bit mature for the role), Jeremy Brett, and Michael Jayston. Shakespeare gave The Merchant of Venice other problems as well, most notably its uneasy mix of romantic comedy and heavy drama, yet its strengths are so vivid that they negate many of its weaknesses.