Leave it to Germany to turn a bleak brooding play into an even bleaker, broodinger movie-of-the-week for German Television. This thing, made in the early sixties, has "we're still really sorry for the war and feel terrible" all over it.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 presents:
Maximillian Schell, who captured all our hearts in Disney's The Black Hole plays the annoyingly existential Prince of Denmark with the kind of skill and range we've come to expect from the actor Sting (star of the remake of Bride Of Frankestein reviewed by Joe Bob Briggs). King Claudius dresses like M.C. Three Hundred Pound Oliver Reed and seems to have been dubbed by Ricardo Montalban. Polonius, on the other hand, sounds like John Banner, TV's funny Nazi butcher Sergeant Schultz. Add to this a cast of equally brooding actors, a set made of nothing but blocks of old unpainted stucco, a musical score reminiscent both of Brecht plays and cabbage farts, and you have perfect cannon fodder for a boy and his puppets.
Prologue: Servo insists that everyone call him "Sirveaux" from now on. Spelled different, sounds the same. Oh, and he now spells his first name "Htom." Crow suggests that perhaps Htom could hlick him.
Segment One: Pearl has come up with a horrible world-killing mutant virus. Mike couldn't give a rat's ass; he wants to play three-card monte for the choice of today's movie. Mike wins and picks as his movie Hamlet. Pearl consults Brain Guy and pulls a SWITCHAROO on Mike, sends him the above described German turd.
Segment Two: Crow and Servo dress up as Mike's dead dad to scare him and perhaps have a good chuckle. Turns out that Mike's dad isn't dead, nor are any of his relatives that they can name. Ultimately Crow and Servo yell at each other and fall over in a snappy bit of physical, um, comedy.
Segment Three: Crow and Servo rehearse their own unorthodox staging of Hamlet. After having tried an all-SCUBA diving version, a bucket head version and an all- furniture version, they decide on an all-percussion version. In this way we stick it to all those pretentious bastards who want to do something different with this classic tragedy.
Segment Four: Mike dresses in full Elizabethan drag for a "nutty" game show parody called "Alas Poor WHO???" in which Tom and Mike, who play small robots who live with Mike, try to guess which celebrity an old bone comes from. Surprisingly, there isn't a trace of irony in this funny yet series-canceling sketch.
Segment Five: The bots, as they usually do when they like a character, have made an action figure of Hamlet. It talks and has a string you pull. A really long string. I mean a REALLLLLY long string, because it talks a lot. In the castle, Pearl and Co. are visited by Fortinbras, a character from the end of Hamlet, who is outraged that he was excluded from this version of Hamlet. Pearl calmly pours poison in his ear and kills him. Ultimately, Mike lets go of the very long string from the Hamlet doll, and we hear the entire "to be or not to be" soliloquy.
We very much looked forward to doing this movie. It seems easy to do Shakespeare badly, as this thing proves. And then we found ourselves with the task to cut this three-hour-plus production down to our required time of a little more than eighty minutes. Although we found some relief in the fact that his play is astoundingly overwritten, it did give me pause to think that we could be making a bad production worse by chopping it. This turned out to be untrue. Bottom line is, not even that lipless yet talented Kenneth Branagh was able to get it right in the 1996 version. But I did feel this sense of import, as if we should do sketches and jokes that were somehow more intelligent, more up to the raw material which is Shakespearean verse at its best, full of hidden meanings and outright puns and dirty jokes and strikingly compact metaphors and sheer marvels of language. However my colleagues calmed me down and came to remind me that we can't really break the play, can't even hurt it. The Germans already tried and yet I still love the thing, long and wordy as it is. So go ahead and try your own clown makeup version of Hamlet. It'll be around long after you croak. Not the clown makeup, the play.
- Kevin Murphy
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