1964: Bill Colleran, John Gielgud
This version is a rare treasure converted from what is little more than a home video. The production qualities are frankly terrible; some defect (probably in the master) makes the aspect ratio go a bit uneven when one is moving from one side of the screen to the other, with the result that at one side people are uncommonly squat and stout; moving to the other side makes them grow preternaturally tall and thin.
Nevertheless, it is the only documentation of a stage performance given in New York involving some of the more talented actors of the age, and in particular Richard Burton’s steely and syrup-voiced take on Hamlet. Burton, noted for his stage performances of Shakespeare, left relatively few filmed instances behind; they’re generally quite remarkable.
I don’t personally find this nearly as riveting a theatrical experience as many another version of Hamlet, but as a document of something unique in theater history it’s impressive and valuable, and there are a lot of insights to be garnered from the production and from Burton’s expression of the role. The thinking behind the production seems to have been much akin to that behind the Elizabethan stage itself: there are almost no sets of any sort, and even costuming is kept to a minimum. It’s all about the acting, the delivery, and the language. On those terms it’s remarkable.
There is probably nothing here to object to: if the film has a flaw, it’s that there is almost nothing graphic in any dimension. At least one implication of that fact is that there are no too-graphic portrayals of anything that might be objectionable. My only caution with respect to younger audiences is that they might find this film, with its poor image quality and its unengaged camera work, to be boring. It is not exactly an inviting performance of the play, especially for the newcomer.
Bernardo: Frederick Young
Claudius: Alfred Drake
Cornelius; Second Gravedigger; English Ambassador: Hugh Alexander
First Gravedigger: George Rose
Francisco; Fortinbras: Michael Ebert
Gertrude: Eileen Herlie
Ghost (voice): John Gielgud
Guildenstern: William Redfield
Hamlet: Richard Burton
Horatio: Robert Milli
Laertes: John Cullum
Lucianus: Geoff Garland
Marcellus; Priest: Barnard Hughes
Ophelia: Linda Marsh
Player King: George Voskovec
Player Prologue: John Hetherington
Player Queen: Christopher Culkin
Polonius: Hume Cronyn
Reynaldo; Osric: Dillon Evans
Rosencrantz: Clement Fowler
Voltimand: Philip Coolidge