Patrick McGoohan makes a great Iago in this jazzed-up modern take on Shakespeare’s OTHELLO/1604, but everything else lags far behind. That is, everything except the music which finds greats like Dave Brubeck, John Dankworth & Charlie Mingus playing themselves on screen. It’s the play that goes missing. Paul Harris & Marti Stevens are over-parted in the Othello & Desdemona spots. Surrounded by jazzmen of various races, Harris is denied Othello’s ‘otherness’ while Stevens is hobbled by a look that’s pure Marlene Dietrich. And someone had the bad idea to load up on the motivation behind McGoohan’s villainy. He’s jealous of Harris’s success and needs Stevens for his own putative band. But pinning down Iago’s malice tames it, makes it ordinary. Daringly, the whole show is played out in a single set, a fancy loft owned by Richard Attenborough in the Roderigo role. In theory, this should help give everything a claustrophobic vibe, but director Basil Dearden doesn’t find a visual style to make this studio construction come alive. (Using real locations on SAPPHIRE/’59 brought a lot more out of him.) And it all sounded like such a good idea.
DOUBLE-BILL: George Cukor’s A DOUBLE LIFE/47 is another modern take on OTHELLO with Ronald Colman playing the Moor on-stage & off. Or stick with Shakespeare, especially Orson Welles’ eye-popper from ‘52.