Othello (The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice)

1955

Othello (The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice)

Critics Consensus

This ragged take on Othello may take liberties with the source material, but Orson Welles' genius never fails to impress.

89%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 28

85%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 4,013
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Movie Info

Anyone interested in making a low-budget movie ought to see Orson Welles' screen adaptation of William Shakespeare's Othello, a striking example of how much can be achieved with very little money. For years, stories about this singularly troubled movie circulated more widely than the film itself; Welles began shooting Othello without securing full financing, so he would gather his cast, assemble a crew, and shoot until his money ran out. He would then take an acting assignment to raise some cash, reassemble his cast, and start filming again until the latest batch of money was gone. For the sequence featuring the murder of Cassio, Welles (depending on who tells the story) either couldn't pay the bill for the costumes or they just didn't arrive in time, so he reset the scene in a Turkish bath with his players wrapped in towels borrowed from their hotel. This process went on for four years; by the time Welles was done, the film was on its third Desdemona, and the director, himself, had to dub several voices, since most of the dialogue was recorded after the fact. Remarkably, the finished film not only isn't a disaster, it's a triumph, that rare example of a movie based on a Shakespeare play that's as exciting to look at as it is to listen to. While Welles pared the Bard's story of jealousy, betrayal, and murder to the bone (this version clocks in at a mere 92 minutes), the film's striking compositions and energetic quick-cutting allow the camera to tell more of the story than almost any other Shakespeare adaptation. Repeat viewers will see that Welles picked many of his camera angles to obscure the fact that Othello's mighty army was merely a handful of extras, but the unexpected bonus is a lean, muscular look that's the perfect match for the film's brisk narrative style. The spare, but powerful, visuals feel like a product of Expressionism, not a low budget, and the images have atmosphere to spare. In addition, it's truly a pleasure to hear Welles' rich baritone wrap itself around Shakespeare's dialogue; his con brio performance as the noble Moor undone by jealousy and betrayal has the impact of a fine stage rendition without overplaying its hand. Michael MacLiammoir is his equal as the conniving (and lustful) Iago, and had this film been more widely seen, it could well have sparked the successful screen career he so obviously deserved. And Michael Laurence is fine in an often witty turn as Cassio (with a verbal assistance from Welles). Only Suzanne Cloutier as the virtuous but wronged Desdemona lacks the forceful presence of the rest of the cast (though given how much of the role was edited away, it may not be entirely her fault). Welles' daughter spearheaded a campaign to restore and re-release Othello in 1992; and while the digital sheen of the re-recorded score sometimes makes for an odd contrast to the occasionally scratchy recordings of the dialogue, the new edition of the film looks better than ever (both on the big screen and on video) and is highly recommended to anyone who loves good acting or good cinema. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

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Critic Reviews for Othello (The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice)

All Critics (28) | Top Critics (14) | Fresh (25) | Rotten (3)

Audience Reviews for Othello (The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice)

  • Feb 06, 2012
    Marvellous depiction of Othello made on a slim buget but with the acting chops to make up for it. A fine exampel of the Welles film style that makes a movie a classic no matter what it cost to make.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Oct 21, 2011
    Welles finally manages to adapt Shakespeare and achieve perfection. Exceptional photography in all of its breathtaking fashion, less grim and intoxicating noir remnants like the ones featured in <i>Macbeth</i> (1952), more accurate characters, a 100% anti-Hollywood style, jaw-dropping editing, and the giant Welles as the doomed Othello. CInema at its best! 99/100
    Edgar C Super Reviewer
  • Apr 09, 2011
    Gotta love those lopsided camera angles! Whatever this adaptation of Shakespeare's play lacks in performances, involvement, and precision: Welles makes up for in incessantly inventive and creative photography. 88/100
    Simeon D Super Reviewer
  • Dec 14, 2010
    Very slow and drawn out for the majority. However, the film does hold a compelling tale, strong characters, very good directing, excellent performances (especially from Welles, which comes to no surprise) and very powerful sequences, especially in the epic final act. Ultimately, "Othello" isn't the greatest Shakespeare tale nor best Orson Welles film, but that hardly matters.
    Cameron J Super Reviewer

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