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Kino on Video presents
Richard III (1912)

"An occasion for celebration....and not just for the history of cinema, but for the history of the theatre."
- Kevin Brownlow

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: June 13, 2001

Stars: Frederick Warde, Robert Gomp, Violet Stuart, James Keane
Other Stars: Albert Gardner, George Moss, Howard Stuart, Virginia Rankin, Carrie Lee, Miss De Felice
Director: James Keane

Manufacturer: Cine Magnetics
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, poisoning)
Run Time: 00h:59m:28s
Release Date: June 26, 2001
UPC: 738329018023
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BB-B+ C+

DVD Review

In 1996, the American Film Institute garnered headlines across the country when it announced the recovery of the 1912 version of Richard III, the earliest complete American feature film (by definition, a film of more than four reels; Richard III runs five). Many silent film aficionados, including this reviewer, were disappointed when the recent Image Silent Shakespeare DVD didn't include this seminal and historically important film. But that omission is remedied here, in a beautiful restoration of this important piece of American cinematic history. But as Kevin Brownlow's quote points out, it's not of importance just for cinema, but for the theater as well. This film provides one of the few cinematic records of 19th-century acting styles: its star, Frederick Warde, was a notable player decades earlier, having toured with such luminaries as Edwin Booth.

The modern viewer will be astonished to learn that this Shakespeare adaptation has absolutely no dialogue whatsoever. Instead, the action of the play is transmitted in the tableau style, where a title describes the action, and the portrayal, usually in a single long shot, then follows. This rather primitive style is used with some innovation here, for there is intercutting, within scenes, between interiors and exteriors. There are, however, no medium shots or closeups. The camera is quite static. This would have been no problem to the 1912 viewer however, since most of them in that more highly-educated day would be familiar with this play.

The film follows the action of Shakespeare's play fairly well. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and brother to the new king, Edward IV (Robert Gomp), plots to secure the throne for himself. Along the way, he arranges the murder of his elder brother George, Duke of Clarence (an uncredited member of Warde's troupe), as well as the two young sons of Edward IV (Howard Stuart and Virginia Rankin, the "princes in the tower" of romance and story). Oddly enough, Clarence is merely stabbed here, instead of drowned in a barrel of wine, which would seem to be the more cinematic death scene. Once installed on the throne, Richard attempts to secure his position by marrying Elizabeth (Miss De Felice), the daughter of the late King Edward, after murdering his own wife Anne (Violet Stuart), to be able to do so. The princess' mother (Carrie Lee) summons Henry, Earl of Richmond (director James Keane) to protect Elizabeth, and at the climactic Battle of Bosworth Field (1485), kills Richard and assumes the crown as King Henry VII Tudor.

Warde's portrayal of Richard is surprisingly subdued. His deformities and hunchback are quite played down, though he becomes noticeably more stooped as his crimes weigh down upon him, a Victorian linking of disability and criminality. He gives a delightful performance as the hypocritical brother, pretending to sympathize with Clarence and to mourn King Edward, or pretending not to want the throne when offered it by the Lord Mayor and the Duke of Buckingham. But his true intent is displayed graphically once the Mayor leaves, as Richard casually tosses his prayer book high into the air. Many of these splendid bits are found within the film, making it clear why Warde was a popular actor in touring companies. The supporting cast is obviously much less visible, mainly because anyone else who shows up on screen soon ends up dead. The scene where Richard craftily woos Anne Plantagenet, however, gives an indication that Warde was not the only good actor in his group.

Viewers in 1912 surely must have been pleased with the production here. There is plenty of spectacle and action. There are large crowd scenes and elaborate costumes (though the painted flats used for the interior scenery look rather fake). The concluding battle contains plenty of violence to gratify the bloodthirsty. Probably most impressive would be Richard's dream the night before Bosworth Field, in which his victims appear through the magic of double exposure and accusingly point their fingers at him, one by one. Surely this shot is more effective than the stage presentations of the day were able to manage, and it continues to instill a fair measure of fear.

While the running time is nearly an hour, the film proper is only 53m:02s in length. The balance is taken up by AFI and restoration credits and a four-minute musical prologue. Ennio Morricone did the original score for the film, in the form of a Symphony for Richard III. The music does not really follow the action on the screen, and is disappointingly not a proper accompaniment. It's better than silence, of course, but at times it seems to get in the way of the enjoyment of the picture. That is probably the biggest disappointment about this disc. Lacking in melodies as such, the symphony is more a creation of moods. It's unfortunate that they weren't timed to the screen. The prologue, with trumpet fanfares over a queasy string figure, makes for a properly ominous beginning that the balance of the score just doesn't quite measure up to.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: For the single extant copy of a 90-year-old film—thought lost for 80—this picture is in outstanding shape, no doubt due to restoration efforts by the AFI. A few scenes are a little over-contrasty, and there's the expected flicker, but there is plenty of screen detail, and the pageantry of the various processions comes through nicely. There are occasional speckles and two or three visible instances of frame damage, but as a whole the picture is very pleasing indeed. The tints are a shade heavy, though not so much so as to interfere with the viewing. There are a few sequences where certain areas of the screen seem to glow. It's not clear if this is the beginning of nitrate decomposition, or the remnants of hand-applied tints added long ago. While distracting, they're not too frequent, except in the closing shot of the dead Richard III.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0(silent)no

Audio Transfer Review: Morricone's score is presented in 2.0. It has excellent range with substantial bass and good timbre quality reproduction. Directionality is quite limited in Dolby Surround decoding, with sound from all speakers. Hiss and noise are nonexistent, as is to be expected.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: other
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Article by Frederick Warde about the making of the film
Extras Review: The primary extra is a 16m:58s documentary about the preservation of Richard III, as well as touching on other adaptations of Shakespeare for the silent screen. There are excerpts from a number of such films, all of which are included in their entirety on Kino's Othello (1922) disc released the same day as this one. While this is an excellent primer on the subject, there is almost nothing on the restoration efforts related to Richard III by the AFI. This disappointing omission aside, it's an interesting short subject. A set of production notes by Douglas Brode, author of the forthcoming Shakespeare in the Movies, covers a bit of the production history, as does an entertaining, though short, newspaper article written in 1912 by Warde himself about the novelty of filmmaking as opposed to appearing on stage. A nice supporting extras package, if not a voluminous one. The animated menus are quite artfully done, and are among the best I've seen on DVD. Chaptering is good throughout.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

An important piece of cinema and theater history, in a beautiful restoration, with some nice background materials make this a must-buy for silent film fans. The merely curious will probably be satisfied with a rental.


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