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Macbeth (1948)
USA 1948
Directed by Orson Welles
Running time 107 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


There is no question that Welles put his stamp on Shakespeare’s play both presentationally and performatively. For many this will be a source of much debate but taken for itself it is heavy weather with the director giving it as much sturm und drang as his characteristically limited resources would allow. It is in fact rather surprising that the film was made in Hollywood (under the Republic banner) as it is a darkly idiosyncratic reading, full of supernatural malevolence, murder and madness that had its origins (although he denied a connection) in Welles’ notorious 1936 all-black voodoo production in Harlem, sponsored in those heady Left-leaning days by the WPA (Workers Progress Administration).

Both thematically and stylistically the film is very much Welles at his auteurial best and one can see in it Citizen Kane (1941) on the one hand, Touch Of Evil (1958) on the other with Macbeth an desperately isolated figure wracked by the consequences of his ruthless acts. Also characteristic is the menacing ambience with swirling fog, rocky cliffs and deep caverns obscuring the players who are shot at wildly raking angles (photography was by John L. Russell) in what is a decidedly Baroque rendition.

Whilst Welles chews the scenery to good effect unfortunately with the exception of Jeanette Nolan as Lady Macbeth no-one else really gets a look in and a boyish Roddy McDowell makes for an unlikely Malcolm amongst a crowd of grotesques. Probably a film more for fans of Welles than the Bard, let alone the general viewer who is likely to find it rather hard going.

FYI: For the initial release Welles had the cast speak in a Scottish brogue, such a radical act for its time in America that the Republic executives pulled the film, made Welles re-record the soundtrack, shorten the film and add a prologue before re-releasing it in 1950. There are as a consequence various version of the film in circulation with the restored video version running 107m.

 

 

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