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Carnival (1931)


Main image of Carnival (1931)
35mm, black and white, 88 mins
DirectorHerbert Wilcox
Production CompanyBritish and Dominions Film Corporation
ProducerHerbert Wilcox
Adaptation/DialogueDonald Macardle
Original playMatheson Lang, C.M.Hardinge

Cast: Matheson Lang (Silvio Steno), Dorothy Bouchier (Simonetta Steno), Joseph Schildkraut (Count Andrea Scipio), Lilian Braithwaite (Italia), Kay Hammond (Nella), Brian Buchel (Lelio)

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In Venice, married actors let the jealousies and flirtations of Shakespeare's Othello spill over into real life.

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A sound remake of the 1921 silent original (d. Harley Knoles), this also stars Matheson Lang as jealous actor Silvio Steno, but with a different supporting cast and director, this time Herbert Wilcox. And while the first film was entirely shot on location in Venice, the remake is much more studio-bound, using stock footage of Venice and the Carnival (including some hand-tinted firework displays in the NFTVA print) intercut with the main action.

There's also a marked difference in style - whereas the first film was staged almost entirely in long shot (the better to show off the locations), the remake relies much more on medium shots and especially close-ups, meaning that what it lacks in visual splendour it makes up for in terms of intimacy: we get to know the characters in a way that we never quite managed with the silent version, especially when it comes to the crucial central relationship between Silvio and Simonetta.

Since the remake has a virtually identical plot to the 1921 original, it's worth noting some key differences. The sound version has a somewhat Hitchcockian opening whereby Simonetta appears to be strangled in close-up before we're informed that it's only a rehearsal; there's rather more emphasis on Simonetta's eagerness to spruce herself up before Andrea's visit; Lelio has an unnamed girlfriend that he's trying to impress; there's no previous reference to Silvio's master Donati before his telegram arrives (making his excuse for missing the Carnival seem rather perfunctory); there's a recurring motif of Silvio looking across the canal at a neon sign announcing his stage appearance; as he is contemplating hitting Andrea backstage, Silvio recalls his earlier dismissal of Othello's jealousy as being psychologically implausible, which stays his hand; the final reconciliation between Silvio and Simonetta is much more emphatic.

Another difference is that there's rather less Shakespeare on offer here - while the 1921 version made use of several scenes from the earlier part of the play, chosen for the resonance of their lines in the context of the backstage drama, in the remake this has almost entirely been replaced by Desdemona's Willow Song, presumably because of the opportunities it provided for a musical interlude. This comes at the price, though, of losing a greater level of integration between play and film.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Silvio on Othello (3:12)
2. Simonetta's disappearance (5:24)
3. Preparing for performance (4:51)
Carnival (1921)
Men Are Not Gods (1936)
You Made Me Love You (1933)
Bouchier, Chili (1909-1999)
Wilcox, Herbert (1890-1977)
Young, Freddie (1902-1998)
Contemporary Shakespeare
Othello On Screen