HAMLET (Sven & Heinz Schall Gade, 1921, Germany, 131m, BW)
Cast: Heinz Stieda, Hans Junkermann, Asta Nielsen, Paul Conradi, Eduard von Winterstein
Director: Heinz Schall, Svend Gade
Running Time: 131 min.
Princess Hamlet desires Horatio and has a rivalry with Ophelia.
Danish silent movie-star Asta Nielsen formed her own production company to make this film, in which new elements are combined with features (and a few lines) familiar from Shakespeare's version of the legend. The most important of these changes sees Hamlet made into a female character - a princess forced to masquerade as a man by her scheming mother; from this follows Hamlet's secret passion for Horatio and rivalry with Ophelia for his love.
Queen Gertrude is here presented as conspiring in her first husband's murder, and the old king's ghost does not appear - young Hamlet merely hears a voice from the tomb and (apparently) dreams of him. In addition, Hamlet now kills Claudius (in a fire) immediately upon returning from Norway with an army led by old school- friend Fortinbras, and it falls to Gertrude to engineer Hamlet's death in the fencing match as well as kill herself by accidentally drinking the poisoned wine.
Nevertheless, as jarring as the premise is, it works. In fact, it works better if you're already familiar with the story (which, given the fact that the subtitles were all in German, was crucial in helping me understand it), because you can appreciate how this change plays havoc with the character relationships in the original story. Horatio is no longer just Hamlet's friend; he's the unrequited love in Hamlet's life, and Horatio's love for Ophelia creates one of the weirdest love triangles I've encountered in years.
There's other plot changes that really fascinate; the real villain of the piece turns out to be someone else, the character of Fortinbras ends up being more than just a plot device in the final act, the character of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are reduced to nameless ciphers, and neither Osric nor Yorick appear. Yet, for the purposes of this project, one unfortunate other change has been made; the ghost of Hamlet's father does not appear; though Hamlet seems to hear his voice from his tomb and dreams about him, it's hardly a substitute, and so like DER REST IST SCHWEIGEN, the driving fantastic content of the original story is missing, so all you're left for the horror content is Hamlet's feigned madness. You know, I'm bound to see a straightforward version of this one someday.
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