As You Like It (1936)

Earlier this year, it was exactly 450 years since the birth of William Shakespeare, considered by many as the greatest playwright ever. And even though such anniversaries are technically speaking just non-events based on arbitrary calendaric and mathematical concepts, it is nevertheless a good thing to be given a reason to reflect and celebrate.

According to Wikipedia, Shakespeare is the most filmed author in the history of motion pictures. Quite an accomplishment. Considering that, there are comparatively few Shakespeare films at the Internet Archive, and fewer yet that I find to be interesting.

There is a lot of stuff about Shakespeare and his texts, such as a TV programme with the title Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?. A fascinating subject, though fraught with speculating charlatans. There are also several films of amateur companies performing Shakespeare, as well as abridged LEGO animations(!) of Macbeth and Hamlet. (I have seen none of these, so watch at your own risk.)

"All the world's a stage." Henry Ainley and Leon Quartermaine in As You Like It (1936)

But when it comes to feature films, we have to look harder. There are some early silent adaptations, mostly incomprehensible if you do not know the stories well, but historically interesting.

There are a handful of others, but the only one I find really interesting is the first sound version of As You Like It. Not only is this a nice version with neat, theatre-style scenography and good actors, it was also the first Shakespeare adaptation to feature Laurence Olivier, here in the role as the love-sick Orlando.

Unlike Olivier’s other three Shakespeare films, As You Like It was not directed by him. This is a shame, since his three films as director are among the greatest Shakespeare adaptations of all time. But at least you get to see this legendary actor perform, and that is certainly not a bad thing.

This film is best enjoyed for the wonderful, Shakespearean language, delivered by very good actors. The story about Orlando and his beloved Rosalind – who dresses as a young man in order to escape when she is driven away by her uncle, the Duke – is frankly a bit silly. Yet, it is a popular Shakespeare text, and this is a very good adaptation of it.

Laurence Olivier, Sophie Stuart and Elisabeth Bergner acting out the mock marriage of Orlando and Rosalind in As You Like It (1936)

As You Like It
Download link
Year: 1936
Running time: 1 h 36 min
Director: Paul Czinner
Stars: Laurence Olivier
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×576)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: DivX (698 M)

Q Planes (1939)

The more British 1930s mysteries I see, the more I come to enjoy them. I have previously reviewed Non-Stop New York (1937) here. Certainly, there was a major Hollywood influence in British film, but the Brits had their very own distinctive style. There is lightness and elegance here, and at the same time often thematic forebodings of the coming war.

One enjoyable example is the nice spy thriller Q Planes, released just months before the outbreak of World War II. The enemy in the film is very vaguely defined, but with the political situation being what it was, it is not difficult to imagine what the audience was supposed to conclude.

Valerie Richardson, Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier in Q Planes (1939)

The plot of Q Planes should be paid as little attention as possible. Major Hammond, who is working for some unspecified spy agency, tries to investigate experimental military planes that have been disappearing in various countries all over the world. His superiors are convinced that these are only a series of accidents, but Hammond sees a pattern. When test pilot Tony McVane loses one of his best friends in yet another “accident” he, too, becomes involved, as does the beautiful reporter Kay. Then there is the usual bit about an engine-stopping ray gun and somesuch.

While this may seem promising, there is really very little else to the plot. The film’s strengths, rather, lie in the nice characterizations (especially Ralph Richardson’s Major Hammond) and the snappy dialogue. The big star, by all rights, should have been Laurence Olivier as McVane, but he plays the second fiddle to Richardson, both in terms of screen time and performance. Still, it is very interesting to see him in what must have been one of his last British films before his Hollywood breakthrough.

Aviation buffs will be disappointed to find that there is very little here in terms of aerial action. Mostly some studio shots of the test plane’s cabin and planes standing on the ground.

This film is best enjoyed if you have at least a basic understanding of the political situation just before World War II.

Valerie Hobson and Laurence Olivier in Q Planes (1939)

Q Planes
Download link
Year: 1939
Running time: 1 h 18 min
Directors: Tim Whelan, Arthur B. Woods
Stars: Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier, Valerie Hobson
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×576)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: DivX (699 M)