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A little background helps one better appreciate this film. After a string of box office failures (including "The Magnificent Ambersons" and "The Lady from Shanghai"), Welles signed on with Republic Pictures to do a low-budget "Macbeth," hoping that he could popularize Shakespeare on film as he had done on radio and in the theatre. His actors rehearsed the play on tour, and painstakingly pre-recorded their dialogue in Scottish brogues. Welles then shot the film in 23 days, some kind of record for him. Well, you can guess what happened: The studio hated it. They forced Welles to cut 20 minutes from the film, and made the actors re-dub their dialogue with "normal" accents - wasting all that time they spent in pre-production. The film bombed on release and Welles spent the next 10 years working in Europe.
Years later, the original prints were found and released as another "Lost Welles Classic." Unfortunately, time has devalued that label; "Macbeth" doesn't quite meet the standard set by "Othello" or "Touch of Evil," two other films that were restored after Welles' death. While the Scottish accents are a nice touch, the extra running time actually robs the film of some momentum.Read more ›
Welles vision of MacBeth has the texture and feel of a nightmare. The backdrops are unfinished, muddy charicatures of the objects and places they represent. Scotland is an eerie, nightmarish landscape that is constantly misty and partially unformed. The use of the b&w medium superbly creates a feeling of dread and foreboding in the audience who is drawn ever deeper into the madness of the story. This is vintage Welles, who loved to make the tone, timbre, hue and texture of every part of the movie relate to and support the story he was filming. Certainly the work of a genius.
Most people know the basic story. MacBeth (Which literally means "Son of Life"), is given a prophesy that he will become king of Scotland and tells his wife of the prophesy. Lady MacBeth then uses MacBeth's insecurities to manipulate him into murdering the true king and assuming his throne. Guilt-ridden and paranoid, MacBeth begins a reign of tyranny and sinks into madness. Finally, the English invade and end his reign of terror. MacBeth, who is shown as no more than a pawn in this story, finally gains a measure of grace and dignity when he faces MacDuff in combat. We finally see in death the couragous man MacBeth could have been - indeed was before he allowed his and his wife's greed to corrupt him - MacBeth rises above his fate and becomes master of his own destiny by crying-out the infamous phrase "Lead on MacDuff, and damn the man who first cries hold - enough".Read more ›
Welles plays fast and loose with the order of speeches, who delivers them, and whether they are actually spoken. The real fun of the play, the witches, gets short shrift. Now, it is probably true that any performance of "Macbeth" requires some preparation by the audience. The fact is, the motivations in the early scenes are difficult to establish: Macbeth and his Lady seem to jump too quickly into planning Duncan's murder, and many of the characters are difficult to sort out without a preview. But this film exacerbates all that. And cutting the second scene, which establishes that Macbeth is a great warrior, leaves out an essential facet of his character. The banquet scene, in particular, was poorly done: where Macbeth should have alternated between conviviality and terror, gradually losing control, here he ONLY addresses the ghost(s), not the guests, and the scene loses its point as turning point.
I liked Jeannette Nolan as Lady Macbeth, though, and Orson did well as Macbeth; he has good Shakespearean delivery (I can't be sure right now, but I believe he dropped the Scots burr for the "tomorrow and tomorrow" speech).Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Yes Orson Welles was one of the most influential filmmakers in the United States, but he was also an egomaniac. Orson takes on William in his adaptation of 'Macbeth'. Read morePublished on June 25 2003 by Dhaval Vyas
This production is not without some virtues, such as the eerie realism with which it presents the primitive, brutal, and pious texture of life in medieval Scotland. Read morePublished on April 10 2002 by Michael Scully
People talk about Citizen Kane, but they forget that Orson
Welles "wowwed them on Broadway" with his West Indies style
Macbeth, and then did it again with a... Read more
Orson Welles tackles one of Shakespeares most bizarre tragedies. Filled with blood, hallucinations, revenge, villainy and three prophesizing witches, MACBETH borders on the... Read morePublished on Sept. 10 2001 by GLENN WHELAN
I love this play, and I usually love Welles, but this film doesn't do it for me. The loooong dramatic pauses and sing-song treatment of lines turn it into a reverent Recital Of... Read morePublished on March 28 2001 by Teacher
My only complaint about this movie is that some important scenes like the march of 8 kings followed by Banquo's ghost are deleted. Read morePublished on Nov. 8 2000 by Sean Ares Hirsch
Without a doubt Orson Welles is the perfect American compliment for William Shakespeare. Superbly directed and acted on a melancholy stage in haunting black and white, the poetic... Read morePublished on July 22 2000
I SAW THE FILM AT THE FINE ARTS MUSEUM (BS.AS.)AND IT CAUGHT ME. IT'S THE BEST VERSION I'VE EVER SEEN (BLACK AND WHITE ARE THE BEST COLORS FOR DRAMA). Read morePublished on May 4 2000