Macbeth (1948 film)

Macbeth (1948 film)

Infobox Film
name = Macbeth

caption =
director = Orson Welles
producer = Orson Welles
Charles K. Feldman
Richard Wilson
writer = Orson Welles
William Shakespeare (play)
starring = Orson Welles
Jeanette Nolan
Dan O'Herlihy
Roddy McDowall
music = Jacques Ibert
cinematography = John L. Russell
editing = Louis Lindsay
distributor = Republic Pictures
released = October 1, 1948
runtime = 107 min
country = USA
language = English
budget =
preceded_by =
followed_by =
amg_id =
imdb_id = 0040558

"Macbeth" is a 1948 film adaptation of William Shakespeare's tragedy "Macbeth" made by Orson Welles.

The film marked Welles's return to Shakespearean interpretation. He had planned to take his company and stage the play at the Utah Centennial Festival in Salt Lake City. With costumes and props at his disposal, Welles rehearsed his company and shot the film in 21 days.

The film was made on a very small budget. It utilised stylized sets in the manner of German Expressionism. While some consider it hammy and overacted, its admirers argue that it is notable for revealing the idiosyncrasies of each character as the movie progresses.

The film was a critical and commercial disaster in both the U.S.A. and the U.K.. It had been filmed with the actors speaking the lines in Scottish accents, which were largely responsible for the bad reviews - critics complained that the Shakespearean verse could not be understood. After its premiere, the film was withdrawn and partially re-dubbed by the same cast, with the actors speaking in Scottish, English and American accents. Then, it was edited to 89 minutes from its original 107-minute length, thus eliminating some of the most famous lines from the play, and several entire scenes. This was the version that eventually opened in New York, once again receiving devastating reviews. However, it was a huge success in many non-English speaking countries, especially France, where critics could not understand how the American and British press had failed to appreciate the highly stylized and surrealistic approach Orson Welles took to the play. In the 1980s, the original "all-Scots" sound track and the edited footage, long thought lost, were re-discovered, and the film was restored to its original version. Many critics and Shakespeare buffs now consider it a classic, though it is not shown as often as some of Orson Welles' other great films. As of 2006, it has been released on DVD only in Europe, not in the U.S.

The film has many unusual touches. Among the most notable is that the witches fashion a clay bust of Macbeth, and place what seems to be a voodoo spell on him through the doll. This apparently sets in motion the progress of Macbeth's way to the throne. This touch was undoubtedly influenced by Welles' 1936 production of the play at the Mercury Theatre, often referred to as the "Voodoo Macbeth".

In filming "Macbeth", Welles took greater liberties with the play than had ever been taken in "serious" sound films adapted from Shakespeare. (Examples of "non-serious" Shakespeare of the time include include the film version of "The Boys from Syracuse" and Cantinflas's comical Spanish version of "Romeo and Juliet".) In his film of "Macbeth", Orson Welles transposed speeches, switched scenes around, interpolated a new sequence not written by Shakespeare, showed a death onscreen that takes place offstage in the play, and even created a new character called the Holy Father (Alan Napier), who is given most of the lines that the soldier Ross speaks in the play. While it is now common in a film such as Franco Zeffirelli's "Hamlet" to encounter extensive transpositions of scenes and speeches, such tinkering was unheard of in Shakespeare films during the 1930's and '40's. The most severe tampering that Laurence Olivier had done up to then was to show the death of Falstaff and omit the hanging of Bardolph in his filmed "Henry V", and to omit Rosencrantz and Guildenstern completely from his "Hamlet". MGM's "Romeo and Juliet" had been so respectful of the text that almost nothing was changed, and although Max Reinhardt had inserted ballet sequences into his 1935 version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and used actors who had never acted in Shakespeare, the adaptation of the play was, on the whole, faithful.

But Welles's adaptation of "Macbeth" outraged many critics at the time, and probably contributed to the critical failure of the film, although it is very likely that, had the play been adapted in a similar fashion today, no eyebrows would be raised.


* Daily Variety: October 11, 1948
* Hollywood Reporter: June 12, 1947
* Hollywood Reporter: October 11, 1948
* New York Times: December 28, 1950
* Variety: October 13, 1948

External links

*imdb title|0040558|Macbeth

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