Orson Welles tried to rejigger his fast-fade Hollywood trajectory with the low-budget legerdemain of this ‘quickie’ MACBETH, shot @ little Republic Pictures, home of the Western. It’s tremendous stuff, alive & exciting, but its shameful reception had Welles altering his original Scottish-tinged soundtrack & trimming off a couple of reels to little commercial effect. He’d wait a decade for his next Hollywood production. Restored on Olive DVDs to its original glistening edge, it’s not much like a Western, but rather like one of those famous Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneau poetic-horror numbers made @ RKO just as Welles was being pushed out of the place. (The phenomenal witches with their bubbling tangible clay apprehensions could have come from I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE/’43 . . . or from Welles’ own legendary ‘Voodoo’ MACBETH of 1936.)
This MACBETH suffers sins of omission (where’s the third murderer?); sins of commission (Welles devised an unnecessary Christian Priest as counterweight to the Pagan witches); a few poorly staged scenes that look like Golden Age Television Play-of-the-Week stuff; and from its debuting Lady Macbeth, Jeanette Nolan, who hasn’t the depth of response to properly feed into Welles’ rapturously tortured King. But it also has the narrative thrust and visual thrills to trump its few problems. (The DVD could have alleviated even more had it come with a subtitle track.) At the time, the film was commercially & critically obliterated by Laurence Olivier’s award-winning HAMLET/’48, which has its own strengths & pleasures. But from a cinematic standpoint, Welles towers over all comers with a technique even further ahead of its time than CITIZEN KANE was in ’41. The film’s persistent lack of appreciation remains both incomprehensible and inexcusable.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY-I: What are the odds that Welles and Giuseppe Verdi would adapt the same three Shakespeare properties (MACBETH; OTHELLO; FALSTAFF) and do them in the same order?, with each making a composite of plays for Falstaff. And what are the odds that the same speedy cinematographer, John Russell, would be used by Welles here, and by Hitchcock on PSYCHO/’60 to help keep the costs down?
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY-II: Okay, not really a Screwy Thought, instead, a suggested Screwy Party Trick for the vocally gifted. Try reciting the great (and mercifully short) ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ soliloquy in your favorite Hollywood voice. Boris Karloff or Bette Davis are pretty easy to do. Very impressive! Ah, where have all those distinctive Hollywood voices gone? Now that everyone whispers all the time, grand eccentric voices have been flattened out.