Macbeth (Olive Films)

Director - Orson Welles

Cast - Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan

Country of Origin - U.S.

Discs - (1)

Distributor - Olive Films

Reviewer - Scott MacDonald

 

The Film (5/5)

Keanrick: We were exorcising evil spirits. Being but a mere butler, you will not know the great theatre tradition that one does *never* speak the name of the "Scottish Play".

Blackadder: What, *Macbeth*?

Mossop, Keanrick: Aahhhhh. Hot potato, orchestra stalls, Puck will make amends.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h--HR7PWfp0

     Macbeth is probably my very favorite of Shakespeare's plays from the moment I read it at an all too young age. It's mix of the supernatural with bloody horror, and intense drama fueled my mind moreso than many of his other works.  And while I have seen many Shakespearean film adaptations over the years I tend to go out of my way to check out any adaptation of the "Scottish Play."

   My personal favorite of the adaptations if Roman Polanski's 1969 effort.  This was made in the wake of the Manson murders, and it has been stated was in a way his therapy in dealing with the aftermath of losing his wife and unborn child in that horrific bloodbath.  Not every adaptation worked for me, an Australian adaptation by Geoffrey Wright a few years back was decent, and some OK ideas, but didn't quite work, the worst adaptation of the film I have seen was in an English Literature class in 2006.  It was Macbeth in the guise of a Mafia film called Men of Respect starring John Turturro. 

   Arguably the finest adaptation of the material would be Orson Welles' 1948 adaptation of Macbeth. Welles' vision for the film channels Shakespeare vision with a great shadowy gothic tonality to it.  Welles' Macbeth in a way feels like Shakespeare as seen through the eyes of the German Expressionist.  And while the Olivier adaptations of Shakespeare's work seem to be the standard-bearer for traditional Shakespeare in cinema, the magic of Welles' increasingly bizarre visual style, with the supernatural elements brought to the forefront in this adaptation helps Welles' version of Shakespeare become not only a unique contribution to the cinematic Shakespeare canon, but one of the finest additions to that canon.

   The film was criticized upon for release for Welles' tampering with Shakespeare's original work, for the addition of a new character, and for the use of traditional Scottish accents which at the time were difficult for the typical movie going audience to discern. Watching Welles' adaptation he does drift at times from the play itself, but not so much as to make the Shakespeare scholars in the audience take too much of a notice. And although the voices were reworked in ADR slightly before release, the use of Scottish accents helps sell the film as a genuine article, rather than an American performed adaptation.  Also Welles' visual style is on full display here, and really helps translate the Bards words, atmosphere, and motivations well to the cinema screen.

     Of course, it does not hurt in the slightest that Welles' surrounded himself by such a fantastic cast to help bring the film to life. Aside from Welles' terrific performance as Macbeth, we have Jeannette Nolan bringing Lady Macbeth to a fully fleshed out ,and wonderfully deep performance.  This is especially interesting since this was her first film performance. We also have Dan O'Herlihy (Halloween III) as MacDuff, and Roddy MacDowell (Fright Night) as Malcolm helping bring Welles' vision to life.

   Misunderstood at the time of it's release, but now a certified classic of cinematic Shakespeare.  Orson Welles' adaptation is a dark, gothic, brooding film that takes a visual style close to German expressionism, and applies it to The Scottish Play. Welles' Macbeth is a fantastic cinematic treat, and deserves the new audience it gets with this release from Olive Films.

 

Audio/Video (3/5)

   Olive Films puts out a quite nice version of Orson Welles' Macbeth. This Blu-ray has a great deal of fine detail in comparison to any version I've seen in the past, there is a nice grain structure, and contrast is very good. However, there is quite a bit of print damage to the film.  This is to be expected considering the history of the film, but a few sections of the film have damage along one side, there are some various other bits of print damage seen throughout.  Otherwise, this version of Macbeth looks absolutely fantastic and is the best the film has ever looked. 

   Olive have presented us with suitable English audio track. The dialogue either due to the production, or thick accents was a bit hard to discern at times at a subtitle track would have been a welcome addition, but overall it definitely did the trick. I did not detect any moments of pops, hissing, or cracks on the track.

Extras (0/5)

   Olive Films have not included any extras on this release of Macbeth.

Overall

   Although not my favorite adaptation of Macbeth (a very close second).  Orson Welles' Macbeth is a fine adaptation of the Scottish play that takes Shakespeare's themes and channels them into some seriously gorgeous visuals and performances. The A/V portion if flawed, but is the best this film is ever likely to look in this current generation. Some extras would have been nice to put the film into historical context. Although the film on it's own is sheer brilliance the whole package is Recommended.