Othello (1965) Review

Othello (1965) Director: Stuart Burge

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In a brilliant and justifiably controversial adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello, Laurence Olivier portrays the Bard’s Moor as an exceedingly confident and bombastic elder general –often erratic, bordering on apoplectic, yet he is immensely believable, even if not particularly moving. Initially a wildly popular National Theatre play, in the film Laurence Olivier switched roles from his preferred role of Iago to Othello following a challenge from Orson Welles: “Larry’s a natural tenor, and Othello’s a natural baritone.” I wonder how this film might have turned out if Olivier had remained in the role of Iago?

In the film, Olivier struts with an effeminate gait and displays freshly trained deep vocal cords voice while performing his lines with a distinctly African dialect. It’s difficult not to draw comparisons to Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer. Sadly, his disappointing decision to appear in blackface has mired the film in controversy for years –a decision which raised more than a few eyebrows even in 1965. And this controversy extends well into the present-day. In 2021, an internationally renowned professor of music (Bright Sheng) at the University of Michigan displayed portions of this film in his class without context or discussion regarding the appearance of blackface. Several students were upset and said professor was soon asked to step down. It was a sad situation all around –clearly, a discussion should have occurred regarding Olivier’s controversial portrayal in the film, however, the situation was equally sad for Dr. Sheng, a Chinese-American scholar whose family escaped the Maoist Cultural Revolution, who deeply apologized for misunderstanding the situation.

At any rate, since Othello has always been something of a dueling match between two actors –Othello and Iago. In the film, Iago is played by Frank Finlay as a subtle rationalist, less of a slimy, conniving schemer. His subtlety only serves to highlight Olivier’s explosive performance as Othello. Iago’s wife Emilia is played by Joyce Redman and the film’s true delight comes in Maggie Smith’s performance as Desdemona and Derek Jacobi as Cassio.

This first color film version of Othello is a unique venture in many respects. The sets employed are all evidently those of a soundstage –the film makes no effort to step much beyond the bounds of the limitations of the physical theatre. The aim was to recreate the experience of witnessing live theatre. It is deliberately minimalist and faithful in its adaptation though notably the brief Clown scene is omitted (in the original play, the unnamed Clown notifies Cassio when Emilia arises so he may entreat her to speak privately with Desdemona, and later he fetches Cassio for Desdemona).

Whereas this version is wonderful in many respects, Orson Welles’s version of Othello is the greater true cinematic feast as it makes the play come alive in a whole new light. It’s difficult to separate Olivier’s portrayal from being a stereotyped caricature. In this respect, Othello is a discomfiting film, and thankfully our culture has cast aside the widespread practice of white actors playing black characters, but for completionist viewers of film adaptations of the Bard, Othello may still be a worthy endeavor.

On Rod Serling’s “The Whole Truth”

“Whoever owns that car –he’s got to tell the truth!”

In Rod Serling’s short story based on the memorably hilarious Twilight Zone episode entitled “The Whole Truth,” Harvey Hennicutt is a Stetson-wearing used car salesman –and an “exceptional liar.” He is the subject of numerous apocryphal tales. For example, he once bought the old General Sherman tank for $25, sending a postal worker riding home in an old-fashioned tank:

“Harvey wasn’t an innately dishonest man. He didn’t lie because he was some kind of devious bastard. It was just that his entire frame of reference was ‘the deal.’ He had to buy, sell, and trade the way most people find it necessary to breathe” (2).  

One day, he is found selling a 1928 beat-up Buick to an unsuspecting young couple, and then he buys a cheap 1938 Model A Chevy from an old man who claims the car is haunted. But Mr. Hennicutt simply laughs and buys the car anyway on the cheap only to find that he can suddenly no longer lie to his customers. This ghostly car has brought a cruse on his business! Some divine force is compelling him to admit the flaws in all the used cars sitting in his lot. As long as he owns the old Model A, he must continue to tell the truth. Imagine that? A car salesman forced to tell the truth.

Three days come and go, and Mr. Henniccutt has not sold any cars. This leads to a fight with his junior employee, Irving, who is requesting a raise and this is followed by a customer named Luther Grimbley who stops by the lot to learn about the car, only for it to be purchased by none other than the leader of the USSR, Nikita Kruschev! In a silly twist, the comrades in the Soviet Union will now be haunted by a car that forces truth-telling. Mr. Hennicutt picks up the phone and tries to call Jack Kennedy to share some urgent information. “The Whole Truth” is one of Rod Serling’s sillier stories that bears very little difference from the Twilight Zone episode of the same name, but it is still a charming bit of folklore that is sure to bring a smile. Only in the Twilight Zone could a used car salesmen and a communist politician be cursed with telling the truth!


Serling, Rod. New Stories From The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling Books: 1960 (republished in 1990 by the Serling family), Paperback Edition.

Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.

Click here to read my review of The Twilight Zone episode “The Whole Truth.”

Star Trek TAS: Season 1, Episode Three “One of Our Planets Is Missing”

Stardate: 5371.3 (2269)
Original Air Date: September 22, 1973
Writer: Marc Daniels
Director: Hal Sutherland       

“It is possible this cloud in which we are entrapped is a living thing. The cloud is alive!”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A huge cosmic cloud has moved into the outer fringe of the galaxy –it is unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. Starfleet Command has sent the Enterprise to investigate since it is the nearest vessel within vicinity. Presently, the Enterprise is in the Pallas 14 System which contains the planet Mantilles, the most remote inhabited planet in the entire Federation.

From a distance, the Enterprise studies the fast-moving cloud. It is irregular in shape, and 800,000 square kilometers across. Lt. Arex notes it is twice the diameter of Saturn, Jupiter, and Neptune put together. The cloud quickly consumes the nearby planet of Alondra and it changes course heading for the planet Mantilles. At Warp 8, the Enterprise heads toward the cloud hoping to prevent planetary destruction. While en route, the crew debates whether or not to notify Mantilles (population of 80 million) and risk a mass panic on the planet, or else keep it a secret and hopefully prevent a crisis from occurring. The governor of Mantilles is Bob Wesley, who left Starfleet for the governorship –as Kirk notes, “he’s no hysteric.” Uhura issues a priority one message to Governor Wesley on Antilles, and he and Kirk discuss evacuation for the 5,000 children on Mantilles (Kirk checks in on the status of Wesley’s daughter Katie).

The Enterprise then confronts the cloud which has a stream of koinoenergy, almost an ambiplasma with an usually powerful attractive force. They fire phasers into the cloud while floating inward where they encounter some strange suspended gaseous antimatter –Spock suggest perhaps this cloud is actually alive, its components are similar to those in living organisms. “It is like a huge bull, grazing here and there on the pastures of the universe” as it consumes planets to sustain its energy. If it is a living organism, the Enterprise intends to give it a bad case of indigestion by heading deeper into the cloud’s stomach.

When the ship’s power starts depleting, they capture the cloud’s digestive “villi” which are composed of regenerative antimatter which the crew then uses to power the Enterprise further along. Next, they head for the “brain” where they debate whether or not to kill the cloud since Starfleet regulations prevent the killing of innocent, intelligent creatures. Spock attempts to telepathically communicate with the cloud and after a brief mind-meld, he successfully persuades to stop consuming planets where millions of tiny beings reside.

“Spock, what did you perceive?”
“The wonders of the universe, captain. Incredible. Completely incredible.”


My Thoughts on “One of Our Planets Is Missing”

This episode gave me flashes of The Magic School Bus, as well as TOS episodes like “The Devil in the Dark” and “The Doomsday Machine.” I thought the premise was right in line with classic Trek, however it is a bit of a stale idea at this point. Still, in keeping in line with an optimistic vision of the future, diplomacy and friendship won over the day, rather than violence and destruction. Persuasion remains one of the most powerful tools in the Enterprise’s back pocket.    


Writer

Typically a director, Marc Daniels (1912-1989) was a World War II veteran and notable television director for a number of different shows. During his career he was nominated for several Emmys, two Directors Guild of America awards, and four Hugo Awards. He is tied with Joseph Pevney for most TOS episodes directed.


Star Trek Trivia:

  • Marc Daniels was inspired by the TOS episode “The Doomsday Machine” when writing this episode.
  • James Doohan performed the voice of Bob Wesley in this episode, whereas in TOS he was played by Barry Russo.
  • After this episode aired, D.C. Fontana sent a memo to Gene Roddenberry listing errors within the episode, such as the incorrect Starfleet uniform worn by Bob Wesley.
  • Director Hal Sutherland (1929-2014) directed all episodes of the first season of TAS. He gained early career recognition working on large Disney animation movies before switching to Filmation where he worked on TAS, as well as Flash Gordon, Batman, and Superman animated shows. Notably, pink is a recurring color in TAS. This is because Sutherland was colorblind and thought he was actually selecting the color grey.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

Star Trek TAS: Season 1, Episode Two “Yesteryear”

Stardate: 5373.4 (2269)
Original Air Date: September 15, 1973
Writer: D.C. Fontana
Director: Hal Sutherland       

“Live long and prosper, Sarek of Vulcan.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Enterprise is in orbit around the planet of the time vortex, where the Guardian of Forever resides, the focus of all the timelines in the galaxy which allows people to travel backward in time as previously featured in the TOS Season 1 classic “The City on the Edge of Forever.” Assisting a team of historians who are conducting research into Federation history (including the Aurelian bird-like creature “Aleek-Om” and female named “Grey”), Kirk and Spock (along with historian Erickson) return from the distant past where they witnessed the dawn of Orion, however, suddenly none of the crewmen recognize Spock. Indeed, there is no record of anyone named Spock in Starfleet records, and the first officer of the Enterprise is now Commander Thelin, a member of the “warrior race” of Andorians who has served aboard the Enterprise’s for five years.  

According to Starfleet records, Spock’s father Sarek (a Federation ambassador to 17 planets during his 30-year career) and his mother Amanda (maiden name: Grayson) have gotten divorced following the tragic death of their son Spock, who died at the age of seven during the “kahs-wan,” a traditional survival test for young Vulcan males wherein a Vulcan must survive for ten days in the desert without food, water, or weapons. It was the 20th day of the month of Tasmeen. Since then, Spock’s mother Amanda has also died in a shuttle accident at lunaport while returning to Earth.  

Spock vaguely remembers his kahs-wan as a child, and he recalls a mysterious cousin named Selek who suddenly appeared and rescued him, but then Spock never saw him again. Suddenly, it dawns on Kirk and Spock that Spock must travel backward in time to rescue himself, however, in the time vortex, he must not change the past, or else risk altering the present. Understanding the situation, Spock travels back thirty years in time to the city of Shikahr on Vulcan.  

Here, a young Spock is teased by his schoolmates for being an “earther” and a “terran” because he is half-human and he struggles to perform the Vulcan nerve pinch. Adult Spock plays the part of Selek, a humble cousin of Spock’s who is descended of T’Pel and Sasak, journeying to the family shrine to honor his gods. In a wonderful nod to previously established lore in the TOS Season 2 episode “Journey to Babel,” young Spock has a pet sehlat, a giant “teddy bear” with six-inch fangs. In “yesteryear,” the sehlat’s name is “I-Chaya” (pronounced eye-chigh-yuh).

Together, young Spock and I-Chaya decide to venture out into the desert and to the Llangon mountains to prepare for the kahs-wan, as Spock does not wish to further disappoint his father. However, he is soon attacked by a dragon-esque creature known as a Le-Matya which has poisoned claws, but adult Spock (posing as cousin Selek) comes to his rescue. The Le-Matya strikes I-Chaya and as he lays dying, young Spock seeks a healer in the city to help, but it is too late, the poison has spread too far. It is a touching moment when a young Spock decides to allow his beloved pet to pass away with peace and dignity. The death of I-Chaya is an unnoticed change to the temporal line of events and adult Spock bids a cryptic farewell to his parents, who are slightly suspicious of this mysterious yet familiar figure, and Spock returns to the Enterprise to continue his typical banter with Dr. McCoy.


My Thoughts on “Yesteryear”

Time travel can be a thorny narrative device, however this brilliant installment in TAS from the legendary D.C. Fontana –who also wrote incredible TOS episodes like “Journey to Babel”— offers a key expansion of character development for Spock as a young man. In some respects it reminds me of classic Twilight Zone episode which tackle the issue of time travel. “Yesteryear” pays homage to two key TOS episodes, “Journey to Babel” and “The City on the Edge of Forever,” and it does to masterful effect. If you can look past the truly terrible animation in TAS, the power of this great story expands the backstory of Spock and further deepens the allure of the Vulcan mythos.  


Writer

Writer Dorothea Catherine “D.C.” Fontana (1939-2019), also worked as a writer for a few different television programs prior to Star Trek, before she briefly worked as Gene Roddenberry’s secretary and then was appointed a writer on the show. At the age of 27, Fontana became the youngest story editor in Hollywood at the time, and she was also one of the few female staff writers. She remained a Star Trek writer until the end of the second season of TOS and she has the notable distinction of being one of the few people to have worked on Star Trek: The Original Series, as well as Star Trek: The Animated SeriesStar Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Of them all, Deep Space Nine was her favorite series. For TAS, she was appointed story editor and associate producer of the series. This episode was the only one she wrote for TAS.


Star Trek Trivia:

  • This episode has been widely praised by fans as the best of TAS. It was nominated for a Daytime Emmy.
  • NBC was concerned about the issue of pet euthanasia in the episode, however in the end, because he was given full creative control of the series, Gene Roddenberry ruled out over them.
  • Los Angeles stations aired this episode first before “Beyond the Farthest Star” because George Takei was running or office at the time and the studio did not want to risk violating the FCC’s equal-time rule.  
  • Elements of this story have been later incorporated into Enterprise as well as the 2009 Star Trek film.
  • The pet sehlat Spock had as a child, which was mentioned by his mother in the TOS Season 2 episode “Journey to Babel,” is further developed in this episode and is named “I-Chaya.”
  • James Doohan voiced the bird-like Aurelian historian “Aleek-Om,” the historian named Erickson, the Andorian Thelin who was first officer of the Enterprise in the alternative future, and other characters including the voice of the Guardian, Bates, and the Vulcan healer. Majel Barrett voiced the female historian named “Grey” and also Spock’s mother, Amanda Grayson.  
  • Mark Lenard reprised his role as Spock’s father Sarek in this episode.
  • Child actor Billy Simpson performed the voice of young Spock.
  • The desert of “Vulcan’s Forge” is first mentioned in this episode and later appears in the novelized Trekverse.
  • Spock’s mother’s maiden name was first established in this episode, and then later reiterated in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.  
  • Director Hal Sutherland (1929-2014) directed all episodes of the first season of TAS. He gained early career recognition working on large Disney animation movies before switching to Filmation where he worked on TAS, as well as Flash Gordon, Batman, and Superman animated shows. Notably, pink is a recurring color in TAS. This is because Sutherland was colorblind and thought he was actually selecting the color grey.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.