Critic Consensus: This haunting, eccentric Macbeth may be hampered by budget constraints, but Orson Welles delivers both behind and in front of the camera.
as Lady Macbeth
as A Holy Father
as Lady Macduff
as Young Siward
as Macduff Child
as 1st Murderer
as 2nd Murderer
as A Porter
Critic Reviews for Macbeth
Only a few of the Bard's best lines are audible. The rest are lost in strained, dialectic gibbering that is only sound, not prose.
One of the director's most personal creations, it's a courageous experiment with a craggy barbaric splendor all its own.
There is force in this rough, hasty rendering; the sheer speed of the pacing gives it a quality of crushing delirium.
Audience Reviews for Macbeth
Near theatre-like, Wells adaption of Macbeth, presents in with vision and some rather near-perfect shots of the three witches, cursing thy formulas of the future. Like the serpents sting, death betrays the lust of kings.
Macbeth was always the play of Shakespeare's that I read in high school that connected with me the most. Not that I was any sort of scholar, but between this and Romeo and Juliet, I took witches and ambitious-madness in a rise to power any day of the week. Hamlet may be deeper and more evocative of so many more things existentially speaking, but Macbeth, a story of self-fulfilling prophecy, is like the grimier, harsher cousin to that Danish tale of Kings and Queens and life and death, and speaks to another level of what it means to obtain and hold on to power that has lasted for centuries for good reason. So fitting then that in 1948 while Olivier made his legendary Hamlet film, Orson Welles, on the outs with many in Hollywood, toured quickly and then shot a Macbeth film in 21 days (!) So the fact that this isn't one of his best films is, perhaps, a disappointment unto itself. And yet this is a very worthy film because it has many of the hallmarks of an Orson Welles creation, in all of its operatic, even surrealistic and harrowing scope. Indeed in embracing the rank and dank Scottish caves and corridors and chiaroscuro, we get a fecund mix of Welles in Shakespeare but also a kind of film-noir take on it as well, even as it's in the 12th century and in an area of the medieval and barbarian times. Welles also plays the title character, and rightfully so, it's one of those roles he went into Shakespeare in the first place to play - much like he would later play Faltaff (though, arguably, to much greater and three-dimensional effect than here). And much of the film is Welles himself, first the doubting and fearful would-be king, then the shattered 'Oh wow, now I AM King', and then the whole bag of Madness chips as he descends with the ghosts of those he has killed (Duncan, Banquo), and his wife. Oh, the wife. I must say a criticism right off here: I didn't think Jeanette Nolan was up to par for the role. Is she a BAD Lady Macbeth? No, of course not. But she often comes off kind of stiff in the part, at least for me, even as she does her best to imbue the traits asked of this this iconic Lady - who is really the brains and cruel, dark heart behind the king, that furtive witch who has more than meets the eye behind the horrible encouragement. Is it because it's Welles, who with one look can both eat up part of the scenery and still manage to convey a range of subtlety that is remarkable and more intriguing than can be given enough credit for, is hard to match to? Maybe so. It's like she needed to really get up to a certain level with the part, and got to a level that was just good enough to get the scene by; see when she has to deliver the "Out, spot" monologue that is the show-stopping climax of her character, and it's there. But no matter - even with this, and what threatens to be an overabundance of performance from Welles and darkness from the sets, it's still an absorbing chronicle of this masterpiece of characterization. He's giving all he's got and, unlike some other critics have pointed to, it's not all that hard to follow at all, long as one has some general familiarity with the play (I'm not sure which version I watched - I imagine at 112 minutes it's the one that has the restored footage - but the dialog was easy enough to hear). And other cast do help along like Roddy McDowell as Malcolm and, for his handful of scenes, Dan O'Herlihy as Macduff, who really does stand toe to toe with Macbeth for a few minutes of shared screen time. This may not be the best place to immediately dive in if you haven't seen Welles before, or even Shakespeare films. Hell, it's not even the greatest of the Macbeth adaptations; Kurosawa's Throne of Blood still stands tall above others, and Polanski's adaptation is close behind. Yet it is in that company of bold Shakespeare films - the start to what would be an informal trilogy with Othello and Falstaff - and Welles really digs in with all he has in his low-budget disposal to make it MATTER. So what if he has sets that look it, or lightning when it strikes that shows the sheet on the wall? The theatricality of the whole production, to the horror/film-noir movie cinematography that feels like a monster lives in the caves as opposed to a Royal figure, to the scene of the 'trees' walking forward in unison towards the castle, it all adds up to a unique experience that, while flawed, is totally and wholly remarkable. In other words, maybe not a lot of "fun", per-say, but then it probably never should be. Turn off all the lights, let Welles' terrified and monstrous eyes fill the screen, and get sucked in. If it were made by any less of a filmmaker, it'd be considered a major triumph - for Welles, it's another day at work.
Another inspired, original work by one of the true artists in American cinema. Welles makes excellent use of his small budget, producing a film that is both stylish and surprising. He does things with the play that are unusual, and that's part of what makes his piece so exciting to watch. An absorbing visual marvel.
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