Hamlet (1910)

*. I don’t know much about this one. It’s an Italian production but the intertitles (in the surviving print) are in German. What we have appears to be a fragment. Some scenes are hard to identify with anything in the play, some seem out of order and/or duplicated, others are in very rough shape, and the end of the play is missing (the last scene is Ophelia’s funeral). Still, it’s fascinating to look at.
*. Running only just over 8 minutes, what you get here is mainly a selection of highlights. These highlights in turn tell us something about how Hamlet was imagined over a hundred years ago, and how it was re-imagined for the screen. Ophelia by the riverbank, for example, isn’t a scene in the play but only something described by Gertrude. But it has long been a visual touchstone and here she appears in her traditional guise as the Pre-Raphaelite figure painted by Millais.
*. You’d think they’d have been able to do more with the ghost, but these were early days and he’s pretty underwhelming. Hamlet’s business with the skull is also an iconic moment that gets papered over rather quickly.

*. What stands out is the murder of Polonius. This is nicely done by way of a median split that shows us both characters on screen at the same time. I don’t recall ever seeing it presented this way on film (or on stage, for that matter). The scene is also given a new wrinkle because Ophelia immediately discovers his body, which triggers her next appearance as the mad woman.
*. Baby steps. Like a lot of early cinema it’s very stagey, but actually less so than you might expect. There’s a scene I couldn’t place where Hamlet is discovered declaiming by a waterfall, and the ghost first appears not on the battlements but out in the middle of some field. In sum, it may be quick and in rough shape but it’s still a bit of fun and worth checking out online.

9 thoughts on “Hamlet (1910)

    1. Alex Good

      A very small percentage of movies from this era survive, mainly because (a) no one thought they were worth preserving, and (b) film is a very unstable medium (it has a tendency to burst into flame). We should be thankful for what we have.


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