Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Prince of Players

Prince of Players
. Dir. 
Philip Dunne. Perf. Richard Burton, Maggie McNamara, John Derek, and Raymond Massey. 1955. DVD. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 2016.
On this day in 1865, John Wilkes Booth died. And that makes Prince of Players an appropriate film to watch today.

The film is about the famous Family Booth—well-known actors in the mid-1800s. Junius Brutus Booth was the father. After acting in England, he made his way to America. Eventually, he and son Edwin Thomas Booth performed in what we would call the Wild West. Another son, John Wilkes Booth, was also an actor. Eventually, he would also become an assassin.

Prince of Players focuses on Edwin's rise to prominence as one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of his age. He's deeply in love with Mary Devlin, his wife, but he's also afraid that he has inherited more than a reputation of a good actor from his father: He worries that he has inherited his father's alcoholism as well.

I've extracted three clips as demonstrative of the film. In the first, a drunken Junius Brutus Booth, having been dragged back from the pub to the theatre by his young son Edwin, quiets the riotous crowd, declaring that they will have to wait—but his Lear will be worth it. (As a side note, it isn't. He's too far gone in drink to carry it off.)

The next scene shows Edwin Booth, years later, delivering a similar speech to a riotous crowd who has learned that the actor playing Richard III is not Junius Brutus Booth but Edwin Booth. That speech is followed by Edwin's delivery of the opening speech from Richard III. (As a side note, I think I'd pay good money to have Richard Burton read anything from randomly-generated text to the phone book. That voice!)

Finally, we have the scene where Edwin meets Mary Devlin for the first time—when he's been summoned from a . . . well, let's just call it a pub, shall we? . . . to the theatre for a rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet.

The film, as a whole, is quite good—though it does cross over into excessive sentimentality at points. And John Wilkes Booth and his evil deed (and his eventual death) are included.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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