Amadeus (1984): Milos Forman’s Sumptuous Oscar-Winning Period Drama about Mozart and Salieri

A must-see movie for any music and movie musical lover, Amadeus is one of Hollywood’s few successful works that does justice to its subject, the genius of composer Mozart. Rich, dense, and smart entertainment, sumptuous in its period and costume recreation, and brilliant in the acting of the two leads, though the women are weak, even if they play secondary roles.

Milos Forman’s brilliant adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s Tony award-winning play, “Amadeus” is a fictionalized account of the last days of composer Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham, in the one of the few decent screen performances he’s given), who looks back with envy and admiration at his relationship with genius musician Mozart.

A famous but mediocre (by his own admission) composer in Mozart’s day, now incarcerated in an insane asylum, Salieri begins his confession to a young cleric. Salieri tells of his bizarre relationship with Mozart (Tom Hulce, brilliant) in a 30-year-flashback to when he first met the prodigy, then only 26.

amadeus_6The discerning but untalented Salieri has great influence in Vienna, being the court composer to Joseph II of Austria (Jeffrey Jones), who realizes he knows little about music and therefore allows Salieri to decide what he should hear and whom he should sponsor as patron.

After Mozart manages to get the Emperor’s ear, his career is launched, and we see him writing and conducting several of his pieces; the only clichd scenes in the movie.

Sadly, Mozart’s friends, health, and all other resources gradually begin to waste away. He works most feverishly on one of his masterpieces, “Requiem,” which is commissioned by a masked stranger (who turns out to be Salieri himself).

But, alas, the effort proves the final stroke against the great composer’s severely weakened faculties, leading to his burial in a pauper’s grave.

As director, Forman insisted that the actors do not essay foreign accents, instead speaking in their own natural voices.  This strategy contributes to the human scale and relatability factor of the characters they play, reducing, if not entirely, eliminating the artifice of many other Hollywood costume and period dramas.

While Forman’s direction is assured and functional, it is also impersonal, perhaps constrained by his revered approach to the theatrical source material.  His helming is devoid of the more personal touches he has show in such films as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which swept the 1975 Oscars.

Forman concentrates on Mozart’s more familiar and popular works, but he succeeds in suggesting vividly the prodigious output considering his very short life.

amadeus_3Neville Marriner’s musical direction is superb, and the film is a feast to both the ears and eyes.









Oscar Nominations: 11

Picture, produced by Saul Zaentz

Director: Milos Forman

Screenplay (Adapted): Peter Shaffer

Actor: F. Murray Abraham

Actor: Tom Hulce

Art Direction-Set Decoration: Patricia Von Brandenstein; Karel Creny

Cinematography: Miroslav Ondricek

Editing: Nena Danevic, Michael Chandler

Sound: Mark Berger, Tom Scott, Todd Boekelheide, Chris Newman

Costume Design: Theodor Pistek

Makeup: Paul LeBlanc, Dick Smith


Oscar Awards: 8



Actor (F. Murray Abraham)


Art Direction-Set Decoration


Costume Design