Most Olivier Performances Available on Home Video
Most of the films of Sir Laurence Olivier, who died Tuesday at 82, are on home video. Since many of the tapes have been in release for a few years, they are available at a relatively low price--$20 or less. Here’s a list of his videos, with video company and year of original release following the titles.
Four of Olivier’s finest screen performances are in film versions of Shakespearean plays, three of which are on video (“Othello” is not). He also directed these:
“Henry V” (Paramount, 1944). In this color production, Olivier plays the English king who defeated France. Filmed as if being presented at the Globe Theater in 1603, this production has been called “immensely stirring, experimental and almost wholly successful” by critic Leslie Halliwell.
“Hamlet” (Paramount, 1948). Olivier’s most famous role as the indecisive, anguished prince earned him an Oscar as best actor, and the film won as best picture.
“Richard III” (Nelson/Orion, 1956). This meaty, complex role as the mad English king may have presented Olivier at his best on the screen.
Other notable Olivier performances on video:
“Wuthering Heights” (MGM/UA, 1939). One of his finest roles, as the angry, anguished Heathcliff, tormented by his obsessive love for Cathy (Merle Oberon). A close second to “Casablanca” as the screen’s greatest romance.
“Rebecca” (CBS-Fox, 1940). Dark drama about a young lady (Joan Fontaine) haunted by the former wife of her new husband (Olivier). Best remembered for work of Fontaine and Judith Anderson. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it won the best-picture Oscar.
“The Prince and the Showgirl” (Warner, 1957). Olivier directed this charming romantic comedy and also plays the lead role as the prince who romances Marilyn Monroe. Though you wouldn’t expect it, there is chemistry between these two opposites.
“The Boys From Brazil” (CBS-Fox, 1978). Based on Ira Levin’s best-seller about a Nazi-hunter (Olivier). Worth a look.
“Marathon Man” (Paramount, 1976). Here Olivier plays a post-war Nazi who torments a student marathoner (Dustin Hoffman). Olivier give a chilling, no-holds-barred performance.
“Sleuth” (Media, 1972). A mystery writer (Olivier) plays cat-and-mouse with his wife’s lover (Michael Caine). Olivier is the victor in this duel of acting skills.
“A Little Romance” (Warner, 1979). In a rare kindly-old-man role, Olivier is fine as the champion of two young lovers.
In the course of his long career, Olivier did make some bad movies. When searching for his films on video, approach the following with caution:
“The Divorce of Lady X” (Nelson/Orion, 1938). What’s funny about this screwball comedy is watching Olivier in a role totally unsuited for him--playing a lawyer falling in love with a teasing woman (Merle Oberon) who’s forced to share his hotel room. He has the wrong comic touch for this farce, which may have worked with another leading man.
“The Betsy” (CBS-Fox, 1978). In this trashy, generation-spanning epic, adapted from a Harold Robbins novel, Olivier plays an autocratic auto tycoon, overacting with a flourish, never successfully suppressing his Shakespearean grandiosity. Featuring Katherine Ross and Lesley-Anne Down.
“The Shoes of the Fisherman” (MGM/UA, 1968). Slow-moving movie version of best-seller featuring Anthony Quinn as a Russian Pope. With John Gielgud, David Janssen and Oskar Werner.
“Lady Caroline Lamb” (Prism, 1972 ). About heroine’s affair with Lord Byron, featuring a great cast--Sara Miles, Richard Chamberlain, John Mills, Ralph Richardson--grappling Robert Bolt’s terrible script.
“The Jazz Singer” (Paramount, 1980). A singer (Neil Diamond), in defiance of his cantor/father (Olivier) goes into rock music. Possibly Olivier’s worst screen performance.
“The Clash of the Titans” (MGM/UA, 1981). Olivier isn’t much better in this fantasy/adventure, wildly overacting as Zeus.
Olivier is just one of many stars in two top-notch movies--"Spartacus” (MCA, 1960) and “Nicholas and Alexandra” (RCA/Columbia, 1971)--as well as two lesser ones, “Battle of Britain” (CBS-Fox, 1969)--most notable for its air-battle scenes--and “The Seven Percent Solution” (MCA, 1977), which presents Sherlock Holmes as a coke addict.
Nor was he especially memorable in supporting roles in films at the end of his career, including “Wagner” (Nelson/Orion, 1983), “The Bounty” (Vestron, 1984) and the silly action/adventure picture “Wild Geese II” (HBO, 1985)--his final major film.
Also on video: Three of his early movies, “Fire Over England” (Video Yesteryear, 1937), “Pride and Prejudice” (MGM/UA, 1940)--the acclaimed adaptation of the Jane Austen novel--and “That Hamilton Woman” (Nelson/Orion, 1941), co-starring Vivien Leigh.
Of the Olivier movies not yet on video, “The Entertainer” is the best of the lot. His portrayal of a vaudevillian--quite a stretch for him--ranks among his top performances. He’s also excellent as the lover of the heroine in “Carrie” (1952), featuring Jennifer Jones in the title role.
Also not yet on home video: “Term of Trial” (1962) “Bunny Lake is Missing” (1963), “Inchon” (1980), “Khartoum” (1965) and “Oh! What a Lovely War” (1969).