Orson Welles, Charles K. Feldman (executive) for Mercury Productions, Republic
directed by Orson Welles
starring Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O'Herlihy, Roddy McDowall, Edgar Barrier, Alan Napier, Erskine Sanford, John Dierkes, Keene Curtis, Peggy Webber, Lionel Braham, Archie Heugly, Jerry Farber, Christopher Welles, Morgan Farley, Lurene Tuttle, Brainerd Duffield, William Alland, George Chirello, Gus Schilling,
screenplay by Orson Welles, based on the play by William Shakespeare, music by Jacques Ibert, special effects by Howard Lydecker, Theodore Lydecker, set design by Orson Welles, Dan O'Herlihy
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In 11th century Scotland, Macbeth (Orson Welles), Thane of Glamis, is
prophecized by three witches (Peggy Webber, Lurene Tuttle, Brainerd
Duffield) that he will become Thane of Cawdor and later King of Scotland -
and upon his return to his castle, he's pretty much out of the blue
pronounced Thane of Cawdor. This emboldens him to reach for the Scottish
crown, and encouraged by his wife (Jeanette Nolan) he sets out to kill
King Duncan (Erskine Sanford) and then put the blame on his guards, whom
he also kills to avoid them stating their case. Being King doesn't make
him happy though, as he suspects treachery everywhere on one hand, on the
other is driven by guilt. He remembers a statement of the three witches
that claims that his best friend Banquo's (Edgar Barrier) descwendants
(and not Macbeth's) will become kings, so he has Banquo killed, but his
son Fleance (Jerry Farber) escapes. Later at a banquet, Banquo's ghost
appears to Macbeth, turning him into a nervous wreck. He consults again
with the three witches, who tell him he can't be killed by a man born from
a woman, and his castle won't fall until Birnam Wood will move towards it.
Knowing that every man is born from a woman and woods don't move, Macbeth
is emboldened again, and more determined than ever to snuff out all
traitors, real or imagined, including his former brother in arms, Macduff
(Dan O'Herlihy), whom he has accused of being behind the murder of King
Duncan. However, he fails to find Macduff so has his wife (Peggy Webber)
and child (Christopher Welles) slain. Macduff, learning this, asks for
help from the English army to move upon Dunsinane, Macbeth's residence.
And to obscure their numbers, he has all knights cut down the trees of
Birnam Wood to carry them in front of them - thus Birnam Wood does move
upon Dunsinane. And Macduff wasn't so much born by a woman as he was
ripped out of her (which would now be considered a Caesarean section), so
Macbeth meets his foretold fate at last.
Teaming up one of the
most artistic filmmakers of his time, Orson Welles, with a B-picture
outfit like Republic
to produce a Shakespeare adaptation of one of the bard's most well-known
plays seems like an odd combination, but as the studio granted Welles
artistic freedom (within a budget though), Welles couldn't not
accept. But the studio was quick to regret it: Instead of a nice
historical with all the usual midieval trappings faithful to the letter of
the bard, Welles delivered an oddly impressionist, at times almost
abstract piece, changed the words of the play around and had everyone in
the cast adopt a Scottish accent instead of Shakespearean English, as if
to mock any and all expectations. What's more, the critics of the time
hated it, and it hardly registered at the box office.
said, the film is an absolute masterpiece, Welles' interpretation of the
play is way ahead of its time, in fact the film looks awesomely fresh even
today. And while the film might fail to evoke the tried and true pictures
of the dark ages, its sets perfectly illustrate Macbeth's mindset, and the
shots are so perfectly framed that pretty much every frame seems like an
individual piece of art - and that despite several very long single takes
(especially the 10 minute take of Duncan's murder and its repercussions).
And frankly, if you should only ever want to watch one adaptation of Macbeth,
it ought to be this one - and that's not to put any of the other
adaptations down, there are quite a few that are great, just none reach
the intensity of this one.