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  • fowler-165 July 2005
    I first saw this when I was in high school and thinking of becoming an actor. Burton's performance and the film's highly romantic vision of Booth as the brooding "natural" Hamlet hooked me. Although it has the outlines of a typical biopic, The Prince of Players offers an extraordinary display of the kind of acting that, at its best, dominated the 19th century stage. Burton was one of the few 20th century artists who knew how to balance a ringing declamatory style with honest, full bodied emotions. It is so different from the typical modern understatement that some audience won't be able to adjust to it. But for those who relish language along with fire in the blood, this is as good as it gets on film. The portrait of the actor Edwin Booth, a man overburdened with the cares of the world, as impetuous, self-indulgent, and nearly batty, is a bit overheated. But it's a typical view of the artist in the mad tradition of Poe. Very 19th Century--and well worth knowing.
  • Richard Burton plays Edwin Booth in "Prince of Players," also starring Raymond Massey, John Derek, Maggie McNamara, and Charles Bickford.

    The story takes us through the young Edwin growing up, traveling with his famous actor father, and at times standing in for him. Eventually he himself becomes a great actor, and in fact, was known as the greatest Hamlet of his day. But personal tragedy strikes in his marriage and in his brother John's assassination of President Lincoln.

    John Derek makes a dashing John Wilkes Booth, handsome and charismatic. Massey, a man who played Lincoln on film and recording as well, is the elder Booth and is excellent as the flamboyant drunkard. And it's wonderful to hear him recite Shakespeare.

    "Prince of Players" was a showcase for Richard Burton. In 1955, when this film was released, he was young, handsome, and extremely romantic looking. Classically trained, he possessed, as he always did, a magnificent voice and a great talent. To hear his Shakespearean recitation in this film is a real treat, and there is a lot of it, including Hamlet, Richard III, and Romeo & Juliet. Sadly, Burton came from a poor Welsh family and never got over it. In pursuing movie money, he took roles in mediocre films and did very little stage work, though he shined in "Camelot" and "Equus." His last Broadway appearance, shortly before his death, was a disastrous "Private Lives" with his ex-wife Elizabeth Taylor. His fans, however, choose to remember this sweet and charming person as a glorious Prince Hal in Henry IV and as Hamlet. How wonderful that film audiences can hear his gifts forever in "Prince of Players."
  • Except for the 1937 John Ford movie, THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND, this film is the most centered on the story of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. But that said, it misses the effectiveness of being definitive like Stone's interesting (if flawed) JFK. The film is based on Eleanor Ruggles biography (of the same name) of Edwin Booth's career. So the central figure is Edwin, probably the greatest American actor of the 19th Century. Richard Burton, as a growing Shakespearean actor, was perfect as the talented Edwin. His father, the talented but eccentric and alcoholic Junius Brutus Booth Sr, is played by Raymond Massey (ironically the same actor who played Lincoln in ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS, and John Brown in SANTA FE TRAIL and SEVEN ANGRY MEN). As the egotistical John Wilkes Booth we have the young, still promising John Derek.

    The movie only goes from 1852 (when Junius Booth died) through 1866, when the American public showed Edwin Booth that it did not hold him or his family guilty for the stupid, vicious act of his brother. It does not carry the story down to Booth's death in 1893, with his success as the definitive Hamlet of his age, and his failure as a theatrical producer. Edwin Booth worked until about 1891, due to the debts he accumulated. But his last years were stable, with his second wife. He also found time to create the Player's Club (still located in his Gramercy Park brownstone). Only the tragedy of the President's death at his brother's hands left a really brutal mark on him.

    Derek does the most with his role - showing the strong desire for "real fame" that took control over John Wilkes. As his character kills the character played by Massey in one film, he ironically also attends the hanging of John Brown - historically correct. But his intricate plot to first kidnap Lincoln and then kill him, and his relations with other conspirators is not really gone into. Still, the assassination, chase, capture, and death of the assassin are done fairly correctly. But to get the tone of the government's prosecution of the conspirators, see John Ford's film.
  • rbilling18 November 2006
    Once past the dated nature of a movie like this from the days when movies had more wordy scripts, we see Richard Burton as a classical actor in his youthful prime.

    There is more than one script for this relatively obscure movie. The story of the two Booth brothers, Edwin and John Wilkes, during the Civil War is interwoven frequently with full recitations of Shakespearean excerpts, centuries older. As a skilled movie actor of the mid-20th Century playing Edwin, a leading 19th Century stage actor, young Burton imbues the role with a darkness that became his hallmark in later years.

    For an actor known for bringing a more natural style to the Bard's works, Burton had to feel challenged to incorporate exaggerated gestures and profound speech characteristic of an older dramatic age into Shakespeare's lines. At times a play's lines are delivered with a different meaning in the context of the movie.

    Maggie McNamara's performance as Mary Devlin, the wife who tames Edwin's darker spirit, should not be overlooked. She has a delicate but assertive quality in this production very different from her role as Maria Williams in Three Coins in the Fountain from the year before.

    Overall, an excellent showcase piece for Burton early in his career.
  • rondog29 July 2006
    I've seen this movie on late-night TV and taped it from satellite. Burton is one of my favorite actors and is very under rated. When Burton is doing the scenes from the Shakespeare plays it is nothing short of stunning. The only reason I didn't give the movie a "10" rating is there were not enough scenes from the plays. John Derek who plays Edwin's infamous brother John can't begin to hold a candle to Burton simply speaking with him in a simple scene. The only other actor in the movie even close to matching Burton's talent is the great Raymond Massey. I haven't seen this movie available on DVD or even VHS. It's a shame hardly anyone has seen this fine film. When I recorded the movie onto S-VHS tape from C-Band satellite, it was the best source available. Far superior to crummy cable. It looked like the film was shot in Technecolor. Big budget for 1953. Maybe IMDb could get a word to someone in Hollywood that this is worthy of at least a special edition DVD. Heck, they released a "Superbit" of Anaconda. If J.Lo can get a hi-res DVD I think Burton deserves one too.
  • fahsue1 September 2005
    I'm a fan of Richard Burton. If you would like to see a classic Shakespearian performance, I definitely recommend this movie. I wanted my son, who was involved in his High school play at the time to learn the delivery style and presence from a master. I first viewed this movie 25 years ago when I was a teenager. I enjoyed it more the first time I watched this movie then I did just recently. With this recent viewing with my son I was able to point out some of the characteristics of great acting and presence.

    The story of the brother of a high profile figure who shot President Lincoln was also compelling. Edwin Booth's great career on stage was overshadowed by his brother's political actions.

    This was also a great performance by Raymond Massey as the Father of both John and Edwin. These were great stage actors giving great performances.

    The movie gave me an appreciation of a performers life back in the days when actors where not making the big money and performed because they loved the art. I recommend it!!
  • gkeith_15 December 2007
    Edwin Booth was exceedingly famous, and should be the main character of this movie. John Wilkes Booth should be a supporting character, even though his dastardly deed certainly rocked the career of Edwin.

    Asia Booth (sister of Edwin and John) was a character in this movie. In real life, she wrote a biography of her brother John. It is interesting to read. She does not condone John's infamous bad deed, but she explains John's history from childhood.

    There was at least one more sibling in this family: Junius Booth, Jr.

    John Wilkes Booth had previously been employed by Laura Keene in her acting company, she who had produced the play "Our American Cousin" the night Lincoln was shot. One year before, John Wilkes lost his job with her. He was a very handsome man, and fancied himself somewhat of a matinée idol.

    Laura Keene was America's first female theatrical producer and director, and I feel that she fired John Wilkes due to his self-centered and egotistical demands. Perhaps he was no team player, and was miffed for being fired by a woman.

    He had a year to hatch his conspiracy for the demise of Lincoln and other cabinet members, including time to gather his co-conspirators. Thankfully, part of the plan was botched. The other cabinet members escaped being killed. Lincoln had several tickets, including a pair for General and Mrs. U.S. Grant. The Grants declined, as did several other invitees. This is why the Lincolns were the only couple in their box.

    Lincoln had just been re-elected. The war was over. The South had lost. John Wilkes Booth had a twisted idea that he must make amends for the 'bad' state of things. The rest is history.

    Too bad this helped put Edwin Booth's career into eclipse for awhile. Edwin was so talented, though, that he actually managed to salvage what was left of his career and put it back on track.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A very young Richard Burton gives a compelling performance as Nineteenth Century actor Edwin Booth, from his lonely childhood attending to a drunken, half mad actor father, to his stage triumphs and private tragedies. Burton gets to play many classic Shakespeare moments, especially Hamlet, and it's wonderful to see.

    Special mention must be made of actress Maggie McNamara, who is truly lovely and heartbreakingly vulnerable as Booth's beloved young wife. For those who have seen her mainly as a tart tongued young modern gal in comedies, her gentle, almost serene performance as Mary Devlin is touching and unforgettable.

    Bernard Herrmann's music provides a beautiful main theme that underscores the tenderness of the Booths' love and the fragile nature of it.

    There are many fine supporting performances, including Raymond Massey as the patriarch of the Booth acting clan, and John Derek as the dashing, romantic stage idol John Wilkes Booth, whose jealousy of his brother Edwin's success contributes to his fatal decision to assassinate President Lincoln.

    This is a fine picture, worthy of attention by all interested in the theater, Shakespeare, and American history.
  • viswanat-121 February 2007
    I was in my teens in India and had just graduated with an overseas school certificate awarded by the Cambridge University. One of my favorite subjects was English literature and I had avidly consumed many of Shakespeare's plays while at school. It was a treat to watch this movie because I could enjoy Shakespearean stage recitation on screen by the likes of Richard Burton and Raymond Massey. What a treat that was. I was talking about the great histrionics of these actors long after I had seen the movie.Before this movie I had no idea John Wilkes Booth came from such an illustrious family.I hated that character more after I learned it. It is now 50 years since I saw this gem of a film and badly want to see it but where can I get a copy of it to view. I hope someone who reads this can contact me.
  • RanchoTuVu28 December 2009
    The story of the Booth family of actors with the heavy drinking and mad father, Junius Brutus, played by Raymond Massey who is accompanied on his tours out west to the mining camps by son Edwin, a child actor who morphs into Richard Burton), while John Wilkes (John Derek) hones his acting skills and soaks up secessionist fervor in the South. The various stages are set for the young actors, with John Wilkes choosing to act on a bigger stage, as he says to his brother in one scene. The movie focuses on Edwin played by Richard Burton who takes over the Shakespeare roles his father leaves behind when he (the father) cannot carry on any longer. The big dramatic question is if Edwin will follow in his father's footsteps. Who rescues him from the same fate of his father but the beautiful Juliet to his Romeo played by Maggie MacNamara. It may seem a little contrived, but actually the film captures the times really well, portraying the pivotal roles of the theater, the stage, and the actors.
  • Prince of Players is a movie that was a near-miss when it premiered in the Box Office and was considered to be rather dull. Even so, the title of the film is somewhat looks to be misleading as it is actually Burton as Edwin Booth, the brother of the infamous John Wilkes Booth. As well his usual early on-screen performances, Burton himself also did Booth "on-stage" in those Shakespearean plays.

    The film received some poor reviews around the time it hit the big screens and was Burton's first failure in the Box Office and Burton may have been miscast as the leading character. In the whole, the film's saving grace should be Burton's superb voice and over the years, should perhaps lead to a slow change in attitudes from the critics choice.
  • Dick-4215 February 2000
    I wrote the following in my film viewing log after seeing this movie on cable on February 21, 1990 -- almost exactly ten years ago. I have no reason not to stand behind it:

    A moving and exciting film, maybe more interesting for the Shakespearian excerpts than for the "modern" (1850s) story, which is "Hollywood history." It's a good story, anyway.

    I was, perhaps, in the mood for this picture, but when it ended, I felt strongly that **** [on Maltin's scale, 10 on IMDb] did not do it justice. I'd be hard pressed to defend a TEN BEST rating, but I loved it.

    [Back to February, 2000]: "TEN BEST" refers to my personal list which now contains about 35 titles, not more than one or two of which would appear on anybody else's list. I think two are in IMDb's "Top 100," along with one from my TEN WORST list.
  • This is a hit-and-miss film. It has a perfectly sensible choice in Burton as Edwin Booth (although the producers originally tried to get Olivier, of course) and Massey seems a fitting actor within the framework of the story considering he'd played both John Brown and Lincoln in other films. It also has a reliably expert score by Bernard Herrmann, and cinematography-wise is quite vivid. But scene-wise it expends much of its energy on Shakespeare and too little on the Booth family saga. There's not enough of the tumult of mad Junius (Massey) and later, not enough of the mad intrigue of John Wilkes (although we are spared John Derek's attempts at Shakespeare). Instead we get Burton's take on various Shakespearean works (not an unpleasant experience and good to see recorded on film) and his romance and tragic first marriage (Maggie McNamara, whose recitation of Juliet's lines are pedestrian, if not tragic). There is also some very clumsy direction, allowing the actors to ham it up (one small moment is Sarah Padden as Mary Todd Lincoln who reacts to the shooting of her husband with a silent hugging of him that is straight out of silent movies; and Burton should not be slapping a hand over his face during every other emotional moment). The finale, featuring an angry mob that Burton/Booth wins over is awkwardly handled, leading to a risible moment when John Doucette (a familiar character actor who later played the undertaker in 'The Sons of Katie Elder') starts clapping and rah-rah'ing to a stunned crowd. It's a scene, like many others, that isn't written badly, it's just incompetently directed, but that's all it takes to sink the whole enterprise. The Booth saga is fascinating and deserving of more attention, but cinematically, this film is all there is for now.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Producer: Philip Dunne. Copyright 1955 by 20th Century-Fox Film Corp. New York opening at the Rivoli: 11 January 1955. U.S. release: January 1955. U.K. release: April 1955. Australian release: 10 June 1955. 9,187 feet. 102 minutes.

    SYNOPSIS: Booth, Edwin Thomas (1833—1893), American actor, manager of Winter Garden Theatre, New York, 1862-8. He built "Booth's Theatre" in 1869, with a repertory company playing Shakespeare. Booth excelled in Shakespearean parts, especially Hamlet. — The Modern World Encyclopaedia (sic).

    NOTES: Directing debut of screenwriter Philip Dunne. Film debut of Broadway's Eva Le Gallienne. Negative cost: $3 million. Thanks to the local popularity of both CinemaScope and Richard Burton, "Prince of Players" took reasonable money in Australia, but it flopped badly everywhere else.

    COMMENT: Expansively produced by Philip Dunne but directed in a somewhat leaden fashion by that same Dunne, "Prince of Players" in its present form is something of a chore to sit through. It would certainly be more entertaining with about 20 minutes of judicious trimming — not of the theatrical representations but of both Burton and the inadequate Derek off-stage. Miss McNamara is also somewhat out of her depth. The resulting film would undoubtedly be top-heavy with Shakespeare, but at least it would move with reasonable rapidity from one grand theatrical set-piece to the next.

    Meticulous craftsmanship in all departments reveal the studio style at its zenith. The CinemaScope screen is well utilized.

    OTHER VIEWS: I must confess that on the sound stage I was completely captured by Richard's performance in every scene, and I believed we were making a great picture. Yet, when I went to the projection room at night to see the rushes, I would go into a state of virtual shock. Richard's personal magnetism, his magnificent voice, his handsomeness simply were not there. They were not on the screen, whether he was playing Hamlet, Richard III, or Edwin Booth. Yet I knew I had seen those characters, with my own eyes, on the set. So I'd go back the next morning and try it again. Richard would once more enthrall, not only me, but everyone on the sound stage. But somehow, it did not transfer on camera. I did not understand it then, and I am still mystified by it.

    I know what the result was, however. The picture, while it was praised by the critics, was a complete box-office failure. Hollywood, in its usual fashion, made a joke of it. It proclaimed "The Prince of Players" as "the first flop in CinemaScope". — Philip Dunne.
  • This film has all the ingredients to be a great achievement: a stirring story of the Booths, the most famous family of American actors of the 19th Century, a Bernard Herrmann score (though containing much material he'd already used in other pictures), a good script, Technicolor and CinemaScope cinematography, stereophonic sound. It has some of the best actors of the mid 20th Century, including Raymond Massey and even a cameo by the largely forgotten Eva Le Gallienne, one of the greatest stage actors of her time.

    But somehow, its strength proves to be its weakness. This film showcases Richard Burton playing Edwin Booth. Burton was perhaps the greatest British actor of his generation, and we see him in scenes from Richard III, Hamlet and even the balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet, played in the garden of a New Orleans brothel (what an idea!), all in the over-the-top but truthful style of the 19th century. It's thrilling to hear Shakespeare's words so well-delivered...but the length and weight of these scenes just sink the movie rather than elevating it to the status it might have achieved, totally smothering the interesting story of this troubled but gifted family. WHAT was this director thinking?!

    It's interesting to note how few Americans are in this piece. Brits play Shakespeare beautifully of course, but so should Americans be able to. The only major American is Le Gallienne, who does well in her tiny scene. John Derek plays John Wilkes Booth, but we mercifully never see him try to play Shakespeare. He comes across as a lightweight compared to Burton and Massey, which must have been the point the producers were trying to make, stressing his jealousy of his brother's gifts as motivation for his playing his role in American history as Lincoln's assassin.

    So we have a Brit and a Canadian (Massey) playing most of the major scenes of Shakespeare, movingly and thrillingly done. McNamara gamely tries to play the balcony scene (in the brothel garden!) opposite Burton (that must have been quite intimidating for her!) but though she projects an interesting vulnerability on screen, she has inadequate technique to read Shakespeare and her strong New York accent (she pronounces "Romeo" as "Vromeo"!) is funny and tragic at the same time.

    It would be nice to see this in wide-screen format; the big scenes of Shakespeare might make more sense. The Fox channel is showing a pan and scan print, with only the main and closing titles in widescreen.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    As a huge fan of Edwin Booth,and a Booth scholar, there were a lot of things this movie got right-I enjoyed the early mining camp scenes and the scenes with his father, and the relationship with Mary Devlin was sweet. The most glaring unfortunate decision was to make Booth a redhead- when he was referred to throughout his career as "raven-haired" and all photos show all the Booth children as dark haired. I do take issue with the Billingsly review which posits that Burton must have had a hard time portraying the exaggerated gestures and declamatory speech style of Booth. It is well known that Booth was extremely naturalistic for his time and the one audio recording we have of him is very modern sounding and not at all declamatory. I was slightly disappointed that Burton chose not to "do his homework" and recreate Booth's Hamlet performance, since we have detailed descriptions of both his physical performance of the role, and his vocal work in the role in two exhaustive scholarly works specifically on his Hamlet. It's a pretty movie, most of the direct quotes are "correct" if that matters at all-and though it's an enjoyable film, it certainly doesn't add anything to the Booth legend- though again I'm sure that wasn't the intention.
  • tomsview13 September 2020
    Apparently, before the American Civil War, the denizens of small cities, towns and even mining camps in The Old West had a taste for the plays of William Shakespeare.

    When you see Raymond Massey as Junius Brutus Booth and Richard Burton as his son Edwin delivering the Bard's lines with their forceful personalities and mellifluous voices one can sense the appeal. The elevated language and the larger than life theatrical flourishes were a contrast to the ordinary, rough-hewn lives of their audiences.

    Admittedly, I did not know much about the Booth acting dynasty other than that John Wilkes Booth, younger son of Junius, assassinated Abraham Lincoln. This film fills in some gaps even if John Wilkes (John Derek) emerges as little more than a cypher.

    Richard Burton as Edwin gives the film a burst of energy, or is it more a charge from a defibrillator; this film would be hard to save without the power he and Massey brought to it.

    Maggie McNamara plays Mary Devlin, the young actress who falls for Edwin. 60 years later, this film is tinged with sadness. All the players have exited this earthly stage and we know how their stories ended. This is especially so for Maggie whose lightness is almost overwhelmed by Burton's raw power in a scene from "Romeo and Juliet". She didn't make many movies and died tragically, like Juliet, ending her own life.

    It's as well that Massey and Burton produced fireworks because the film is photographed in a rather artless manner. It was shot in Cinemascope but the few exteriors hardly do the process justice. Towards the end, the film gives little feeling that a momentous war is raging, "Gone with the Wind" it is not.

    However, Bernard Herrmann contributed an impressive score with a powerful main title track; it helps give the film size.

    Although some felt too much Shakespeare dulled the movie, it actually gives it a positive difference. The speeches are well chosen and spoken "trippingly on the tongue" as the Bard decreed it should be done in "Hamlet".

    This is Burton at his best. The actor later accused of wasting his talents is not present here. This is Burton more than delivering on his early promise.
  • AlsExGal24 March 2017
    Prince of Players is an offbeat film which did not do well at the box office when it was released. However, I think it's a must for Richard Burton fans and for those interested in Shakespearean acting. The movie interweaves the story of the Booth acting family and scenes from the Shakespeare plays they performed.

    The father in the Booth clan, Junius Brutus Booth (Raymond Massey) was a noted Shakespearean actor, but he was also a drunkard. Massey is on screen too little, but he does get to do Prospero's great speech "Our revels now are ended" from The Tempest. Both Junius Brutus and his daughter Asia (Elizabeth Sellars) believe in the talents of his handsome younger son John Wilkes Booth (John Derek), but the genuinely talented actor is his son Edwin (Richard Burton). Unfortunately, Edwin also inherited his father's tendency to alcoholism. According to the film, because John Wilkes achieves greater fame in the South, he favors the Southern cause during the Civil War.

    Edwin also finds love with a young actress in his company (Maggie McNamara), but her health is not strong. Charles Bickford plays a sympathetic theater producer who becomes a friend and mentor to the Booth family.

    Shakespearean scenes: John Derek plays a snippet of one of Petruchio's early scenes from The Taming of the Shrew, and this demonstrates why John Wilkes was nowhere near the actor his brother was. I don't think Derek is deliberately trying to do a poor job, but Shakespeare isn't his strength, nor does Maggie McNamara make a particularly effective Juliet in her scenes with Burton as Romeo. Raymond Massey speaks the words of Shakespeare quite wonderfully. Richard Burton was considered the Hamlet of his generation, and we get to see him playing Edwin Booth as Hamlet, Romeo, and Richard III. In his pre-Liz years Burton was a first-class actor, and he makes the familiar "To be or not to be" seem fresh and deeply felt. As an added bonus, we get to see him play a scene as Hamlet opposite Eva Le Gallienne as Gertrude.

    Both John Derek and Maggie McNamara are quite good in their non-Shakespearean scenes. Derek makes John Wilkes Booth a dashing, charismatic, and narcissistic figure, and McNamara brings sweetness and pathos to her scenes as Burton's ailing wife. Elizabeth Sellars also does justice to the complex figure of Asia, emotionally close to her brother John, but horrified by his actions.

    Arguably, Prince of Players might have been better had it devoted more time to the Booth family dynamics and a bit less to the Shakespearean scenes, but those scenes provide it with much of its interest. Philip Dunne is better known as a writer than a director, and a stronger director might have made a stronger film, but I won't complain about the actors and the language being put front and center.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    As a college student majoring in theatre history I spent a lot of time studying the Booth family, and among the many books i read was Eleanor Ruggles Prince of Players which was a favorite. What a disappointment it was when i saw this movie. The only worthwhile thing about this movie to my mind is the chance to see Burton act Shakespeare which he does very well, he is less successful acting Booth. This is not all his fault Burton is miscast in the role..the only thing Burton had in common with Booth was a beautiful voice and a fondness for alcohol.(in a later time period he would have been an awesome Junius Booth, however.) It is difficult to say who in the 50's would have been right as Booth a small dark man with a striking resemblance to Edgar Allen Poe.(In the 70's i always thought that Ian McShane would be perfect.) Another complaint about the movie is that ending as it does, shortly after the assassination it leaves out much that was interesting about Edwins life:his career as an actor manager, his traumatic second marriage, the founding of The Players Club, as his attempts to raise the stature of the acting profession.The worst part of this film, for me, was the ending....with the ludicrous sight of Edwin being egged on the stage as he tried to perform. The fact of the matter is that Edwin was well received on his return to the stage, and that very few people held him responsible for what had happened. The real story of Edwins return to the stage would have made a triumphant, if less melodramatic ending to this film.
  • Watched this again. The first time I saw it, I was a teenager. It was in B&W. Maybe that was because we had B&W television. Weren't there additional scenes? Today when I watched it seemed to hold less gravitas. But it was 1955 after all.

    Criticism about it being clunky doesn't bother me. Or the fact that it's not historically accurate. It's Charles Bickford, John Derek... It's melodrama (with a good portion of Shakespeare thrown in). Richard Burton had expectations of It being something more.

    It moved me. That's all I wanted from an afternoon viewing of a 1955 movie, in the year 2020. If I wanted more I'd read the writings of Edwina Booth Grossman.
  • Richard Burton has fun portraying a somewhat pretentious and stolid actor who speaks, off-stage as well as on, in the 19th-Century grand manner -- in other words, someone like himself. He doesn't try to be American, and we don't really expect him to be. The other Brits and Canadians leave us a nice record of scenes they've been hearing or doing all their lives.

    Maggie McNamara has no fun as a lovely but subdued American -- which she is -- and delivers her Shakespeare in the standard classroom-recital style which Gwyneth Paltrow also favors.
  • Although many chart Richard Burton's film career from "Cleopatra," which ignited his love affair with Elizabeth Taylor in the early 1960's and made him an international star, Burton had already scored critically in several films during the 1950's, including "My Cousin Rachel" and "The Robe," both of which earned him Academy Award nominations. A trained Shakespearean stage actor, the Welsh thespian with the rich voice was an ideal choice to play Edwin Booth, son of an alcoholic actor who played King Lear to miners in the old west and brother to John Wilkes Booth, notorious assassin of Abraham Lincoln. Produced and directed by Philip Dunne, "Prince of Players" glossily traces the Booth brothers from their early days caring for a drunken father to the effects of the Lincoln assassination on Edwin's stage career.

    If intended to be a biography of the three Booths, Moss Hart's screenplay from a book by Eleanor Ruggles only sketchily fills in the three characters and instead focuses on Richard Burton's eloquent scenes from "Richard II," "Romeo and Juliet," and "Hamlet." While capturing Burton's incomparable voice and his mastery of Shakespeare was a worthy ambition, the relatively short film sacrifices story and motivation in favor of extended Shakespearean scenes; the excerpt from "Romeo and Juliet" seems particularly lengthy. Not everyone is a fan of the Bard, and those seeking answers about John Wilkes Booth's Southern sympathies and his decision to kill the president will be disappointed.

    Beyond Burton, the cast is fairly good, if not stellar. Raymond Massey is fine in the relatively short role of the family patriarch, who succumbs to alcoholism, and handsome John Derek is passable as Booth the assassin. However, the movie belongs to Richard Burton. Massey's scenes serve as prologue and Derek's as cutaways, but Burton's Edwin Booth holds center stage. The film provides a showcase for Burton's oratory, and the young actor delivers. With one exception, the female actresses, which include Maggie McNamara as Edwin's wife and Elizabeth Sellars as Edwin and John's elder sister, pale in comparison to Massey and Burton. However, legendary actress Eva Le Gallienne shines in one short scene as Gertrude to Burton's Hamlet.

    Bernard Herrmann wrote a fine score, but the production credits fade into the background when Burton is on screen. For Richard Burton fans, "Prince of Players" is a must see; however, for those who are lukewarm to Shakespeare or who seek insight into a legendary 19th-century family of thespians, look elsewhere. While well produced, this 20th Century Fox film from the mid-1950's is heavy on the Shakespeare and light on the Booths.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A forceful film that succeeds because we don't only hear famous Shakespearean lines whether they be from King Richard or Hamlet, but we get to know the people behind the characters.

    Ironically, Raymond Massey, so brilliant in "Abe Lincoln in Illinois," plays the Shakespearean actor Junius Booth, brilliant in his performances, but mentally unbalanced. We see how this transcends to his sons- Richard Burton as Edwin Booth, and John Derek and John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's killer.

    Massey and Burton deliver their lines memorably and we can see why Burton was born to play Shakespeare.

    His devotion to his wife is memorable, especially since she dies after a few years of marriage.

    We see John Wilkes insanity for the evil deed he did- he was an acclaimed actor in the south, but not as successful up north.
  • Richard Burton was a man who lived life to the fullest. He took his craft seriously and he partied like there was no tomorrow. It was said of him that he wanted it all, to be a popular star and an acclaimed actor. Laurence Olivier told him that he'd have to choose and he simply answered 'why'?

    In playing Edwin Booth in Prince Of Players we get to see Richard Burton in the various Shakespearean bits he does at his creative best. We see the reason why he was considered potentially the greatest actor of his time by many. Certainly there were few in this world for which the English language was such a thing of beauty. Those bits are the best thing Prince Of Players has going for it.

    As for the film itself, it's a serious and fairly factual retelling of Booth's career from a childhood when he would have to be the adult for his father Junius Brutus Booth played by Raymond Massey. Junius was a contemporary of Edwin Forrest for whom Edwin Booth was named and for the insanity that ran in his family might have been greater than his son eventually came to be. It was the thought of madness taking him over that haunts him in the film and in real life up to his death in 1893, but that is beyond the scope of this film.

    Playing Mary Devlin who Booth married and was his first wife is the tragic Maggie McNamara who had an all too brief career herself. Her impromptu balcony scene with Burton from Romeo And Juliet is a sublime highlight of the film.

    There was actually a third Booth brother, but he's been eliminated from the film. Junius Brutus Booth Jr. never amounted to much on the stage, but John Wilkes Booth gained infamy in a different endeavor. John Derek playing the assassin of Lincoln may have gotten his career role as opposed to Joshua in The Ten Commandments. The racism that Booth had is somewhat downplayed, but the jealousy of his brother's success is brought out well. Derek as John Wilkes is as you see him, the matinée idol as opposed to the actor with the southern cause becoming his reason for living. I've always felt that John Wilkes Booth should have just enlisted in the Confederate Army if he felt so strongly, but that's just me.

    Before a lot booze and bad creative choices did his career harm this film gives us an opportunity to see snippets of Richard Burton's stage work as Shakespeare. Don't pass up seeing it.
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