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King Lear (1953)

Most of a year ago, I watched the most insane production of King Lear . . . well, maybe second most insane after Nahum Tate's rewrite (which I have yet to read myself). It's a made-for-TV movie from 1953 with Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, Chimes at Midnight, etc.) as Lear. [At the time in question, I started writing this up, but evidently got sidetracked along the way, so I present below---for the curious, including my future self---the report I began typing, and, afterwards, my notes to self as I was watching the film.]

The play is reduced to a mere 82 minutes by means of a whole ton of cuts, most notably including the excision of the entire subplot of Gloucester's sons. Poor Tom does appear, but he's nothing more than Poor Tom. The absence of Edmund, meanwhile, means that we get instead a Goneril-Oswald-Regan love triangle, the final fall-out of which is pretty hilarious: Lear and Cordelia have been sent off (there wasn't actually a battle; Oswald just waltzed in with a bunch of soldiers and packed them off to prison), and Regan says she's going to marry Oswald. Of course Goneril objects, but Albany objects further and pulls out a letter from Goneril to Oswald which he reads aloud. After he finishes, Regan strangles Goneril, and then Oswald stabs Regan and then himself, and then suddenly decides to tell Albany about what he did to Lear and Cordelia.

Cordelia is pretty authentically naive in the first scene (and not annoyingly so), so that actually worked out nicely. When she comes back to England, France came with her, although he doesn't say anything and we don't see him after that.

The fool is kind of adorable, or at least desperately in need of a hug, although his best scene is definitely his first; it even seems that he recognizes the disguised Kent, which is a kind of cool touch. Lear, during and after his first argument with Goneril, actually already seems borderline insane, not merely angry.

After Lear gets hurried off towards Dover, Cornwall and Regan and Goneril walk in and find Gloucester and subsequently blind him (killing that one servant in the process, of course). In this production, Gloucester apparently does manage to smell his way to Dover, because there's no evidence of anyone else helping him on his way (Poor Tom was only around for those scenes in the middle of the storm with Lear; by the way, he apparently lives in a miniature golf course style windmill). He runs into Lear there, who is fantastically bedecked, not with flowers, but with seaweed and a fishing net.

The final scene (after the love triangle stuff goes down), has Lear sort of randomly wandering around the throne room from the first scene with Cordelia's corpse in tow. It's probably symbolic and all, since he eventually dies sitting on the throne once again. Due to the absence of Edgar, Albany gets to rule England and deliver the closing lines.


Cordelia `nothing' seems genuinely naive, and not in an obnoxious way; skips Cordelia's defense of self (`It is no vicious blot, no stain . . . ')

scene @ Goneril's - random riotous knights; Kent stands around awkwardly; did fool just recognize Kent? Fool is absolutely adorable; Lear starts going off his rocker rather early (not just angry, but actually borderline crazy already); absence of Edmund = serious Goneril/Oswald shipping

at Gloucester's - Lear attacks Cornwall when latter admits to stocking Kent, and then (wtf) Oswald (I think) leaps to Cornwall's defense.

Kent & gentleman @ beginning of storm is really really random meeting; storm effects kind o wacky, including oversaturation and black (Lear's costume) on black (background)

Poor Tom lives in a miniature golf course windmill

Gloucester's eyes - catch Gloucester just as Lear, et al. go out the other door; Goneril present for the fun; Albany also standing just outside

absence of Edmund also = Regan/Oswald shipping (WTF??)

in Dover - King of France present

Lear bedecked with seaweed & a fishing net; Gloucester alone finds Lear

switched line: `they [your sisters] have some cause, you have none' (original is `You [Cordelia] have some cause [to treat Lear poorly, given what he's done to her over the course of the play], they have none'); no battle - Oswald just waltzes in w/ a whole bunch of soldiers

love triangle conclusion: Regan & Oswald about to go off, Albany reveals letter re: Goneril/Oswald; Regan strangles Goneril, Oswald stabs Regan, Oswald stabs himself, then delivers Edmund's `I pant for life . . .' lines WFT???!?!?!

end: Lear wandering around w/ Cordelia's corpse back in throne room from beginning; Albany gets to rule England (& deliver closing lines rather awkwardly)