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Macbeth

USA 1948
produced by
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

Macbeth

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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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.

 

And that 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.

 

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review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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directed by
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written by
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