Thursday, December 10, 2015
Macbeth (1948 film)
Based on the play by William Shakespeare, Macbeth is the story of a general who learns of a prophecy that he will become king of Scotland as he’s pushed by his wife to kill where he is consumed by guilt and paranoia. Written for the screen, directed, and starring Orson Welles in the titular role, the film is a straightforward yet intricate take on the Shakespeare tragedy that explores the fallacy of ambition and greed. Also starring Jeanette Nolan, Dan O’Herlihy, Roddy McDowall, Edgar Barrier, and Alan Napier. Macbeth is a chilling yet visually-entrancing film from Orson Welles.
Following a victory in battle, the film revolves a general who encounters three witches who tells him of a prophecy that would make him the king of Scotland where he and his wife conspire to kill the king and claim the throne. It’s a film that explores a man who would do the deed to kill the king where he not only becomes consumed with guilt but also paranoia where he is unable to trust anyone including those who are his friends. The paranoia would eventually cause alienation as allies such as Macduff (Dan O’Herlihy) and the king’s son Malcolm (Roddy McDowall) who would team up to plan an assault on Macbeth. The film’s screenplay doesn’t just play into the guilt that Macbeth would face but also the fallacy of his actions where he copes with the decisions he makes as well as trying to kill his own best friend Banquo (Edgar Barrier). Even as Lady Macbeth (Jeanette Nolan) would goad him only to fall apart as well where Macbeth deals with the consequences of his actions.
Orson Welles’ direction is definitely entrancing on a visual scales with not just the sets that are built but also the mood he creates with its Expressionistic lighting. While it was shot largely on soundstages due to budget constraints, Welles was able to create something that is very eerie from the way the castles are made as well as some of the exterior settings. While there are a few wide shots and some intricate close-ups, it’s in the medium shots where Welles would put more than one actor in a frame that is entrancing as well as creating scenes shot in long takes. The long takes would play into the drama that occurs as well as the sense of paranoia and guilt that occurs including moments of tragedy where Welles would let the actors recite Shakespeare’s dialogue to convey the drama that is unfolding. Especially in the film’s climax as it is one of the most chilling moments in the film which showcases the fallacy of ambition. Overall, Welles creates a gripping yet evocative film about a general’s scheme to become king.
Cinematographer John L. Russell does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography with its intricate usage of lighting schemes and moods to play up the sense of dread and paranoia that looms throughout the film. Editor Louis Lindsay does amazing work with the editing with its straightforward approach to cutting with some rhythmic cuts for some of the dramatic reactions that play out in the film. Art director/costume designer Fred Ritter, with set decorators John McCarthy Jr. and James Redd, does fantastic work with the look of the castle and some of the exterior sets to make it look like it was set in that medieval period as well as the costumes that were co-designed by Welles to play into that period.
The sound work of Garry A. Harris and John Stransky Jr. is terrific as it is mostly post-production sound that create some sound effects as well as correctly dubbing the actors who were lip-syncing to what they were saying. The film’s music by Jacques Ibert is superb for its mixture of orchestral bombast with eerie string pieces to play into the drama and suspense.
The film’s incredible cast include some notable small roles from Christopher Welles as Macduff’s son, Brainerd Duffield in a dual role as a murderer and a witch, Lurene Tuttle in a dual role as a witch and a gentlewoman, George Chirello as one of Macbeth’s servants in Seyton, Jerry Farber as Banquo’s son Fleance, and Peggy Webber in a dual role as Lady Macduff and a witch. Erskine Sanford is superb as King Duncan as the ruler of Scotland who would become the victim of Macbeth’s plot. Edgar Barrier is excellent as Macbeth’s friend Banquo who too saw the prophecy from the witches as he becomes concerned for Macbeth’s state of mind where he learns that something isn’t right. Alan Napier is terrific as the Holy Father who is the throne’s spiritual advisor who notices that things aren’t going well where he eventually turns to Macduff.
Dan O’Herlihy is fantastic as Macduff as an ally of Macbeth who realizes that something isn’t right as he is seen as a traitor while being the one person that can restore order. Roddy McDowall is wonderful as Malcolm as the king’s son who suspects that something isn’t right as he joins Macduff in plotting against Macbeth. Jeanette Nolan is brilliant as Lady Macbeth as the architect of the scheme as she is a woman of ambition as she goads her husband into killing King Duncan where she later copes with her husband’s paranoia and guilt where she would eventually succumb to her own actions. Finally, there’s Orson Welles in an amazing performance as the titular character where he embodies the larger-than-life persona of the character as he display all of the conflicts and anguish into his performance as it’s one of Welles’ best performances.
Macbeth is a sensational film from Orson Welles that features brilliant performances from Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Roddy McDowall, and Dan O’Herlihy. It’s a film that isn’t just a unique take on the William Shakespeare tragedy but it is a film that is told with such style that manages to do a lot to the play itself. In the end, Macbeth is a remarkable film from Orson Welles.
Related: Throne of Blood - Macbeth (1971 film) - (Macbeth (2015 film))
Orson Welles Films: Citizen Kane - The Magnificent Ambersons - The Stranger (1946 film) - The Lady from Shanghai - Othello (1952 film) - Mr. Arkadin - Touch of Evil - The Trial - Chimes at Midnight - The Immortal Story - F for Fake - (Filming Othello) - (The Other Side of the Wind) - (The Auteurs #69: Orson Welles)
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