If you were going to write a
script following the further adventures of two Shakespearean characters, it's a
safe bet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wouldn't be the first names to spring to
mind. For those who don't know, they are two minor characters from Shakespeare's
Hamlet. They become the focus of Tom Stoppard's 1966 play Rosencrantz
And Guildenstern Are Dead, adapted for the big screen in 1990. The title is
taken directly from a line spoken in Hamlet.
It is a fairly shapeless,
existential film. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Gary Oldman and Tim Roth)
travel around the wilderness, partaking in nonsensical debates about fate,
chance, life and death. They seem unsure of where they are going or why, and often
muddle up their own names as if they are not entirely certain of their
They stumble across a
travelling acting troupe fronted by the Lead Player (Richard Dreyfuss). He
gives them cryptic hints about their place in the bigger picture, but much of
his meaning is lost on them. Occasionally, they find themselves flitting into
the events happening at the Danish castle of Elsinore, where young Prince
Hamlet (Iain Glen) is descending into madness following the death of his father
and the subsequent marriage of his mother (Joanna Miles) to his scheming uncle,
Claudius (Donald Sumpter). When involved in the fineries of Hamlet's story,
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern suddenly become different men - they become more
articulate and purposeful, and have a better understanding of their place in
the world. When the action moves away and they are left alone once more, they
slip back into nonsensical and often stupid character traits, as if they have
been stripped of their personality and understanding.
The film often focuses on
the off-stage aspects of Hamlet, wherein Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
are mostly confused by the small snippets of information they glean from their
position at the edge of the main action. They try hopelessly to piece together
what is happening in Hamlet's life (and the lives of other characters) during
their absence, but only come up with fanciful theories to explain situations
which lie beyond their grasp. The technique raises an important question for
the audience: what role do we play in other people's lives? Our friend's lives,
our family's lives, don't cease to exist just because we aren't present - yet
we don't know what is happening to them or what they are experiencing at any
given time unless we are there to bear witness. Ultimately, lives carry on
regardless and our understanding of any situation is dictated and shaped by
whatever snippets we see for ourselves.
It's a clever device which
enables us to relate to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. We see that, like them,
we are merely minor characters on a much larger stage - called 'Life'. The two
main characters are constantly mistaken for each other by those around them;
even between themselves they often forget which one is Rosencrantz and which is
Guildenstern. In some ways, Stoppard is mocking the way they are written in the
play, indicating they are so similar that they might as well have been rolled
into one, since there is not enough discernible difference between them.
One can imagine that
adapting the play for the big screen would present a daunting prospect for many
directors. It comes as little surprise, then, that Stoppard himself directed
the film version. As he pointed out in
an interview with the Los Angeles Times: "It began to become clear
that it might be a good idea if I did it myself—at least the director wouldn't
have to keep wondering what the author meant. It just seemed that I'd be the
only person who could treat the play with the necessary disrespect." He does a commendablejob here, and it seems surprising this was his one and only film directing assignment. With over 40 writing
credits to his name, it would have been interesting to see him adapting and directing
one of his other plays.
During the casting stages,
Stoppard approached Sean Connery to play the Lead Player. Once Connery's name was associated with the
production, Stoppard was able to secure funding for it.Unfortunately, around this time Connery was having problems with his
throat, leading him to visit a specialist who discovered abnormal
cells which had to be surgically removed. Connery pulled out of the feature to concentrate
on his health. Stoppard reacted angrily, informing the actor he had committed to the film and the producers would take the matter further. In
the end, Connery settled the matter out of court. It's not difficult to visualise Connery in the role: he would have had fun with the character and his voice would have
suited the prose beautifully, but alasit was not to be. Richard Dreyfuss makes a
perfectly worthy replacement, full of energy and mischievous humour in the
Through a distribution deal with the Warner Archive, many Paramount titles are being reissued on DVD. Among them: "Hustle", a 1975 crime flick starring Burt Reynolds and Catherine Deneuve. The film is definitely of an era when cop and gangster movies largely defined the medium. Directed by Robert Aldrich, "Hustle" doesn't rate high on the achievement scale of any of the participants but that isn't to say it doesn't have redeeming values that make it worth a look. The film opens on a sobering note with a group of grammar school kids rejoicing in a field trip to the beach- only to immediately discover a body in the surf. Turns out she is Gloria Hollinger, a wayward teen who had been living a troubled life. L.A. police Lt. Phil Gaines (Burt Reynolds) and his partner Sgt. Louis Belgrave (Paul Winfield) are assigned to investigate the death. The coroner quickly dismisses the death as a suicide. Gaines and Belgrave accept that verdict but they are then confronted by Gloria's grieving parents, Marty and Paula Hollinger (Ben Johnson and Eileen Brennan). Marty is an emotionally unstable man who has never recovered from traumas suffered in the Korean War. He has a short fuse and an explosive temper. His wife tells Gaines and Belgrave that although their daughter's promiscuous ways caused them anxiety, Marty was extremely close to her. He becomes obsessed with finding the person or people he believes murdered his daughter. He locks horns with the cops and accuses them of being complicit in a cover-up. Meanwhile, Belgrave starts to have second thoughts about the suicide theory. Initially, his pleas to re-open the case are rejected by Gaines and their boss, Captain Santoro (Ernest Borgnine) but eventually he relents and begins to investigate further. The trail leads to Leo Sellers (Eddie Albert), a sophisticated business tycoon with a penchant for wining and dining prostitutes- including Gaines's own girlfriend, Nicole Britton (Catherine Deneuve), who is a high priced call girl. Gaines learns that Sellers did indeed have contact with Gloria and that he arranged for her to star in porn films for his own pleasure. He denies having anything to do with her death, however. Marty Hollinger isn't buying the denial and sets out to avenge his daughter- an act that leads to a dramatic confrontation with Sellers.
"Hustle" strives to be more complex and intelligent than many of the low-end cop films from this era. To a degree it succeeds. The script by Steve Shagan does accentuate relationships and character development over major action sequences. However, the script is also problematic because the story line never really engages the viewer on an emotional level. The victim of the alleged crime is already dead when we first see her so there is little emotional resonance toward her character. Much of the screen time is taken up with the ups and downs of Gaines's relationship with Nicole. Theirs is more than a love affair of convenience. He is clearly smitten by her but harbors resentment over her lifestyle as a hooker. Nicole, for her part, is quite comfortable with her line of work. She will only give it up if Gaines marries her, something he is reluctant to do, having already been in a failed marriage. Reynolds and Deneuve defined charisma and glamour on screen in the 1970s. Not surprisingly, director Aldrich has plenty of bedroom scenes with his attractive leads but they are strangely bland and anything but erotic. Writer Shagan attempts to delve deeply into Gaines's psyche. He's sarcastic and cynical toward his job and superiors (in the tradition of all '70s cinematic cops) and he seems cold and unemotional. He also harbors fantasies about returning to Rome, where he once visited in relation to an investigation. He even keeps a calendar from 1968 on his wall to remind him of his goal to return to Italy. There are also references (not very well explained) of his obsession with "Moby Dick". The latter two personality quirks are supposed to be endearing but come across as rather pretentious in the scheme of the story. As for Deneuve, she is largely used for window dressing. We see her sauntering around the apartment and occasionally profiting from engaging in an obscene phone call with a client. In reality, her character could easily have been removed from the script without any major detriment to the overall story line.
The film meanders through some rather innocuous sequences before leading to the climax, which is quite intriguing and much better than most of what proceeded it. Reynolds and Deneuve are in fine form but the best performances come from Eileen Brennan and Ben Johnson as the distraught parents. Johnson, in particular, is a frightening force of nature and gives a riveting performance. Ernest Borgnine is largely wasted in a couple of short sequences that are rather weakly written. Paul Winfield gives the film an additional emotional core as the antithesis of Gaines in that he is a man of compassion and honor. Eddie Albert, always an asset to any film, is spot-on as usual, but also under-utilized. Other familiar faces in supporting roles include Catherine Bach and Jack Carter. The film, photographed by Joseph Biroc, has a grainy look that is compatible with many action movies of this period and composer Frank De Vol's score ranges from disco-like themes to schmaltzy romantic mood music.
The Warner Archive release contains no extra features.