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  • Warning: Spoilers
    I'll be honest, I haven't seen this in years and didn't know you could even buy a DVD copy (and I'm definitely asking for this for my next birthday!). I first saw this in 1973, on PBS and fell in love with both the play and Sam Waterston (at the time, an unknown minor off- Broadway actor)! I was 17 at the time, LOL.

    Normally, I'd probably not bother to review something this slight and 40 years old, but I was taken aback by the cruel reviews of this piece on IMDb.....for starters, people are reviewing it as if it were a poorly made FILM. It is not a FILM. It was an off-Broadway Shakespeare production (by the famous Joe Papp, no less) that was such a minor hit in its day (FOUR DECADES AGO), that PBS had it filmed for their well-received series, Theatre In America.

    This was a WONDERFUL series, back then, that let Midwestern kids like me -- who were not ever going to get to go to NYC to enjoy these productions -- see them filmed for television. (I assume this was done near the end of their run, so as not to cannibalize ticket sales.) They were never, ever intended to be movie versions -- they were quite consciously filmed in a manner to capture how they were as STAGE PLAYS, and done for public television.

    I saw some wonderful stuff this way, back in the early 70s, including an ingénue Meryl Streep in "Uncommon Women and Others" by Wendy Wasserstein. But my favorite of all these, was "Much Ado About Nothing".

    It is unfair to compare this to a $30million modern MOVIE, such as the one with Kenneth Branaugh (which is fine, though not remarkable in any way). It simply could have never had the production values or budget of such a film. I would guess it was videotaped by a single cameraman right on the stage! It is more fair to look at this as if it were a rare, treasured chance to see a 1970s Joe Papp production, as if it were captured in a time machine. A production that only a handful of theatre-goers had the privilege of seeing as it was produced. What a cheap shot it is to scorn this lovely production, for not being a big budget Hollywood film!

    That being said: I still hold this to be one of the most charming adaptations of the play I have ever seen, and I've seen it at least a dozen times on stage, as well as major movie versions. The choice of the early 20th century, post Spanish American War is inspired -- it also places the date as 1898 if any cares - -and the stage version is rich in period detail, men in straw hats and striped blazers, ladies sneaking cigarettes in greenhouses, bicycles and rowboats.

    A very young Sam Waterston and Kathleen Widdoes really shine in these parts, not the least because the setting removes all the stuffy Elizabethean fussiness, and lets them use American accents, and a natural way of speaking. There is a very excellent supporting cast with Barnard Hughes and Douglass Watson (Watson and Widdoes went on to long careers in the soaps, but were first and foremost stage actors).

    Someone mentioned F. Murray Abrams, but I don't remember him or see him listed -- must have been a non-speaking walk-on part. Remember -- this was 1972!!!

    I am delighted this enchanting production was saved on video tape. Please enjoy it for what it is, and the charm and delightful performances, and don't try and compare it to a multi- million dollar film. Indeed, I have found that some Shakespearan plays really do work better on stage (or in simple videotapes of stage productions) than the big budget blockbusters -- that is how they were DESIGNED to be seen. The delicate comedy is often lost on the big screen.

    Lastly: there are so many thousands of productions (film, stage, school) of every Shakespearean play -- and for four hundred years! -- that you can have MORE than one good or valuable version of each play. It isn't tit for tat; that this is a lovely production doesn't take away from the Branaugh version and vice versa. Each play is capable of being interpreted in MANY different ways, and it is only after seeing many different versions that you can fully appreciate the genius of Shakespeare, that his work is so infinitely adaptable.
  • Well acted rendition of the bawdy Shakespeare romance-comedy about lovers being united with stand out performances from Hughes, in an excellent turn as bumbling constable Dogberry and Waterston as an aristocratic Benedick. For fans who want something different than the Branagh version.
  • I was fortunate to see this production of the NY Shakespeare Festival when it transferred to Broadway (and I was in high school), and it was a glorious treat. Waterston and Widdoes were wonderful as the sparring lovers battling one another with words. Barnard Hughes was terrific as Dogberry, recreating a Keystone Cops routine. The setting of the Spanish American War era was a very fine transfer, and the first Shakespeare production I had seen that didn't use the Elizabethan period. I had lots of wonderful memories of this production, and even managed to catch it when it was broadcast on television in 1973.

    Several years ago, I found a copy of this and rented it, and it didn't live up to my memories of the stage production. It is a filmed play, not re-conceived and produced as cinema, and has all of the flaws that filmed plays have: sets that can magically evoke a time and place on the stage, but seem flimsy on film; stage acting that works when you see it in a theatre, but seems overdone on film; a small ensemble playing entre'acte music that charms when heard live, but seems small and tinny on film. Much of the performances that I remembered with affection, particularly those of Waterston and Widdoes, were still very fine, and Hughes is still my favorite Dogberry.

    It doesn't hold up well when compared to the Branagh Much Ado, which was definitely conceived in cinematic terms (like the galloping troops at the opening evoking The Magnificent Seven), and which was much better at conveying how Claudio could be duped into believing that Hero was a wanton woman and not the virgin he had wooed. But Branagh cut my second favorite line from his Much Ado ("your Hero, his Hero, everyman's Hero").

    This version of Much Ado is charming for what it is: a filmed play, with talented performers, in a lovely production. But it is not great cinema.
  • kbuswell2 November 2006
    This is a very bland and inert production of one of Shakespeare's most vibrant plays. I can only guess that the intent was to make the play as accessible and understandable as possible to an audience that has not been exposed to Shakespeare before. By doing this, though - by making every line clear and every intent obvious - they have drained the play of life and turned it into a flat caricature. Somehow, it is actually boring - a very hard feat given such wonderful material.

    The acting is forgettable at best - Sam Waterston as Benedick and Douglas Watson as Don Pedro. Others, however, do not fare so well. April Shawnham's Hero is a pouty, breathless airhead that frequently provokes winces. Jerry Mayer's Don John is a nonsensical cartoon character on the level of Snidely Whiplash (though Snidley was much more enjoyable).

    F. Murray Abraham (you know, the guy who killed Mozart?) is not in this version, unless he was in disguise and had his name removed from the credits.

    Given that the producer, Joseph Papp, is basically a theater god, this production is not only disappointing but head-scratching as well.

    Don't bother with this. Watch Branagh's Much Ado instead - his version is overflowing with vitality and humor, to say nothing of wonderful performances.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is considered by Shakespearean Scholars to be one of three plays call the "Joyous Comedies". The other two are AS YOU LIKE IT and TWELFTH NIGHT, and the subject of them is either joy of living or love. They are considered a high point in Shakespeare's development as an artist on par with his dramatic height in his tragedies of the same period (HAMLET, MACBETH, OTHELLO, KING LEAR). And yet, while college courses spend time teaching TWELFTH NIGHT and MUCH ADO and AS YOU LIKE IT to the public, most people who like theater think that Shakespeare's best comedy was the earlier A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHT'S DREAM. TWELFTH NIGHT is revived more frequently than the other two joyous comedies, but A COMEDY OF ERRORS or THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (politically incorrect as the latter is now) are more popular.

    The problem with MUCH ADO is that it's great wit is hidden by the style of Shakespeare's writing. He was always mixing styles of humor, from low types like Bottom to the height of witty conceits. The early Shakespeare, like his contemporaries, was impressed by John Lily's EUPHUES, an early comedy of puns and word plays. Shakespeare, of course, could knock this off quickly - but the problem of dealing with this is that (except for those lines based on sexual punning) most of his references are so obscure that one needs some type of guide to explain them. This is particularly the case when dealing with Beatrice and Benedict and their wit duels. Most audiences these days can't follow them too well. So the presentation of the amusement has to beef up that portion.

    This particular production was produced by Joseph Papp in 1973, and I was lucky enough to see it when my college offered it as a free trip to the city. As I had a Shakespeare course at the time, it fit in well.

    The cast was made up of New York theater and television figures. Today, the actor playing Benedict (Sam Waterston) is the best known (as is F. Murray Abraham, here in a minor part), because Waterston is A.D.A. McCoy on LAW AND ORDER, and Abraham is an Oscar winner and a star of Broadway productions (ironically in another Shakespeare "comedy" right now: THE MERCHANT OF VENICE). But in 1973 the soap opera performers Douglass Watson and Kathleen Widdowes (as Don Pedro and Beatrice) were better known to local audiences, and Bernard Hughes (as Constable Dogberry) was developing a prominence in television and the movies (his best known film role was as the deadly avenging patient in Patty Chayevski's THE HOSPITAL (1971)). The production made sure that the story (originally in an Italian principality in the Rennaisance) was reset in the U.S. during the aftermath of the Spanish American War.

    The production had it's rewards. Little bits of business stick to the mind - like Widdowes and her girlfriends stealing puffs from a regular tobacco cigarette in 1900 (something unheard of among good young ladies - but Beatrice, after all, is somewhat daring. Waterston, going canoing and paddling backward (the canoe was on a turntable on stage), getting out, and then hiding behind the upright canoe, as though it is leaning against a tree (and it is not fooling the other actors on stage). But best in the production was Hughes as the impossibly dense policeman, who has a "Keystone Kop" force to assist him in seeking out the criminals. Up to his last line, when he announces he has captured the ringleader and has put his hands in a pair of MONACLES (not manacles) Hughes acted like he was Ford Sterling returned to life. Note should also be taken of the late Jerry Mayer as the bad natured Don Juan, who when thwarted in one evil plot at the start gave one of the funniest hissy fits on record.

    Most of these items were in the film version as they were on the stage. The production was a good one, though nothing remarkable. I would recommend seeing the video of the production, to enable one to see a good cast at work in an interesting concept for the production. But if one wants to understand the verbal jousting of the two lovers, read the play and follow the glossary of terms that are included.
  • Much Ado About Nothing as a play is hugely enjoyable and very charming. And I have to say I really liked this version. Is it as good as the Kenneth Branagh film? Not for me. However, it does deserve to stand on its own, as Branagh's is a film and this was a TV version so they are different mediums. I personally don't think this version is perfect, Branagh's film does do a better job at making us believe that Claudio could be tricked by Don John, and I personally- and I'm putting emphasis on the personally- didn't care all that much for John Meyer's rather cartoonish Don John. However if there are assets I do prefer it is that "your Hero, his Hero, everyman's Hero", which has always brought a lump to my throat, is not cut and the performance of Dogberry, Barnard Hughes is funnier and much more subtle, and he is just terrific in general. This Much Ado About Nothing does look great, the scenery and costumes are sumptuous and it is beautifully shot as well. The music is pleasant and lilting, though I can imagine it being even more vivid live. There are some effective scenes, the love/hate sparring between Beatrice and Benedick is very funny in its wit and the scene where Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into thinking one loves the other is lovely to watch and the visual humour with Benedick drawing closer is inspired. Generally, the performances are fine. Along with Hughes, the best of the cast were Sam Waterson as a handsome and aristocratic Benedick and Kathleen Widdowes as an intelligent and witty Beatrice. Their chemistry is really wonderful. Douglas Watson is also a noble Don Pedro, Mark Hammer is likable as the father figure Leonato and April Shawnham's Hero is lovely. Some may find her bland, but in a way Hero is a bland character in comparison to Beatrice, Benedick and Pedro. Likewise with Claudio, who is also competently performed without standing out in the same way. All in all, I liked the 1973 version very much but I didn't love it. 8/10 Bethany Cox
  • Of course, if one spends millions on a sumptuous and largely irrelevant setting for any Shakespearean comedy, the result will look livelier than a photographed stage production of the same story will look. But the comments made by too-young and untrained reviewers about this well-liked and interesting production of Shakespeare's best-liked comedy certainly need to be considered from the standpoint of their lack of context for judging classical-speech works. To begin with, this production I assert works much better than the badly-acted recent Kenneth Branagh version in most respects. It is unpretentious, the costumes and sets are unobtrusively attractive and quietly colorful; and some of the acting is very good indeed; at least most of those reading classical lines in the play can read them to some degree. This allows the viewer to concentrate on the meaning of what is being said and not on untrained actors' attempts to utter the classical line readings. This version happily preserves on film here, with some imaginative use of camera angles, the play that was staged in New York by Joseph Papp, and it has been directed by A.J. Antoon and Nick Havinga with no sense I can find of repetitious or uninspired line-readings. Much of it still looks like a stage play; but a trained listener can certainly enjoy this interesting attempt at recapturing the meaning of the Renaissance original work. Some critics have used the word "nothing" as if it were pronounced "noting" in relation to this famous work--i.e. people watching one another, spying on one another, commenting upon one another etc. This is perhaps a permissible approach. What this production is about I suggest is FUN. The interpretation here is that people are being victimized, but that there is enough native good in people to defeat villainy eventually. The story, for those who have slept in a closet for the last four hundred years, concerns the return from the wars of a unit among whose soldiers is Benedick. They are greeted by ladies including Beatrice, his continual tormentor and verbal sparring partner. The troop's leader swears that he fought bravely and refuses to quarrel with Beatrice. The leader, Don Pedro, is also greeted by his dour brother on his return, Don John, who professes desire for a reconciliation despite past differences. The subsequent events of the narrative involve young Claudio falling in love with the lady Hero; then a plot is hatched by the villains to slander the lady's name. When the abused Claudio accuses her of sexual misconduct, the ladies design to feign that she is dead, to win time to find out who has lied and win sympathy for her. A funeral is held, and Benedick is told by Don Pedro that Beatrice loves him. He vows to help clear Hero's name, and the two, against their wills, find that when they are not quarreling, they are attracted to one another very strongly. The mystery is unraveled, the villains caught and sentenced to appropriate punishment. And the viewer is also treated to the antics of the city's Elizabethan-style comedic watchmen, a group led by Dogberry, a fine malaprop-spouting creation, and followed by equally inept fellow guardians of the public safety. For this charming and well-paced production, Peter Link wrote some pleasant music. But the great strength of the work, contrary to the surrealistic postmodern reviews of the work, is the towering performances by Kathleen Widdoes as Beatrice and Barnard Hughes as Dogberry. Her performance is so natural, so nuanced and so intelligent, it throws much of the rest of the under-funded proceedings into secondary importance. What she grasped about the part I suggest is that Beatrice is a person, and that her quarrel is with the posturing of the Euro-style superiority-believing men as 'males', and with the naturally merry Benedick in particular. The young people act acceptably; F. Murray Abraham, Betty Henritze as Ursula and Douglass Watson as Leonardo are particularly good also. Sam Waterston is bright, likable and as effective as Benedick as his less-than-classical accent permits; he won many admirers by the personal grace of his work in the piece; at the time it was first aired, he was not well-known. This unpretentious staging is I find so much more enjoyable than the noisy, ill-accented later British effort there is literally no comparison between the two. There are defects in this photographed stage-play as "cinema"; but I watch it whenever I can, because it is charming, stylish and I suggest very-well-thought-out. And Kathleen Widdoes I judge to be lovely and award-caliber as the before-her-time feminist Beatrice, by any adult's standards.
  • mlaiuppa29 May 2009
    I've seen quite a few productions of Much Ado, both on film/TV and on stage and I must say this Joseph Papp production with Sam Waterston and Kathleen Widdoes is my absolute favorite. The time period is perfect. And they really used the period and the setting extremely well. Using the Spanish American war as inspiration was...inspiring. Beatrice is both strong and feminine. I think my favorite part is when Beatrice is eavesdropping in the conservatory and the sprinklers come on. While shot on a set, you can still see the roots this production had as a stage play. But that isn't lost when it's brought to the screen. The setting allows for more flexibility in shooting angles and close-ups, but you still get a sense of the intimacy of a stage production. I say "bully!" Two thumbs up.
  • defconbmx4 November 2007
    Painful. Painful is the only word to describe this awful rendition of such a fun and interesting Shakespearean play. I gave it a shot but was terribly disappointed and couldn't bare to even finish viewing it. To the person who wrote a novel about how wonderful this twist of Much Ado was, I pity you and your bored brain. May your pretenses about young viewers be lifted without retribution. Please do not even bother with this gut wrenching, disgusting excuse for a performance of an acclaimed Shakespeare drama. You will be forced to induce vomiting and will require a commode close to the television with which you choose to watch this crap because involuntary defecation will take place.
  • dearagon11 December 2006
    Admittedly I saw this when I was a teen, and haven't seen it since, but my recollection is of a bright, sprightly, and interesting version of Much Ado, set in the time of the Spanish-American war. So maybe this is a good version for those who aren't Shakespeare snobs or so jaded with Shakespeare that most versions fail to satisfy. I remembered Sam Waterston as Benedict for decades when the only other time I saw him on film was as the rather colorless narrator in Great Gatsby, and was happy to see him appear as a major character on Law and Order. Much Ado is my favorite Shakespeare comedy, and I saw an excellent production of it in London the year after this version was shown on TV, so I hardly think it could have been too lacking in overall quality or it wouldn't have held such a place in my memory.