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on 24 January 2003
Prior to this 1948 film adaptation of Shakespeare's "Macbeth", Orson Welles had already tackled the play twice: A theater production, the so-called "Voodoo Macbeth" (set in Tahiti with an all black cast!) and a recorded production with the Mercury Theatre on the Air (though the recording was never broadcast). So it is fair to say that Welles knew this play better than most, and it shows in this film, his ultimate version of the play. Welles' vision of "Macbeth" is very, very dark and introspective. Visually stunning, every frame is foreboding and sinister (especially the images with the three witches - a genuinely creepy visualization) , heavily inspired by the German expressionist directors such as Murnau and Lang. The nightmarish images add greatly to the play, and I think Welles managed to bring forth the central emotions that Shakespeare was trying to convey.
Welles delivers one of the finest performances of his career. I've never quite been able to determine whether his acting abilities were equal to his genius as a director, but they come pretty close. Welles had perhaps the most expressive voice in all of Hollywood, and it is perfectly suited to the Bard's work. Every soliloquy is magnificently delivered, despite the bit too frequent use of voice-over (I prefer the actors to actually speak the lines). The rest of the cast is good, but nothing remarkable. Welles as Macbeth is really the star of the show, at least for me.
The only real downside to the production is a very mediocre score by Jaques Ibert. I cannot help but think how much more engrossing the film could have been with an effective score - too bad Bernard Herrmann wasn't available! But other than the music and a somewhat battered soundtrack, this film is simply superb.
The DVD also features a rare short film made in Ireland. Welles plays himself in a spooky ghost story, akin to an episode of The Twilight Zone. A nice bonus.
Other than that, the DVD has no special features at all. But "Macbeth" is worth the price.
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on 16 November 2005
If you are using this for educational purposes, be aware the text is hacked about quite a bit. If your budget doesn't extend beyond one DVD and you want as full a text as possible, then the BBC Shakespeare version may suit you better, despite Nicol Williamson's overblown performance.

But this DVD is a wonderful complement to other ostensibly more faithful productions because it really has been conceived as a movie, not a glorified record of a stage presentation (which the BBC version feels like, and which the Judi Dench/Ian McKellen RSC one palpably is). The liberties Welles takes with the text make sense because the visuals are doing the work of much of the language so why duplicate the effort? (And this more usual belt-and-braces approach, incidentally, helps to explain why most full-text Shakespeare films never quite come off.)

That said, it does show its B movie budget roots - the biscuit tin crown isn't overly impressive and the accents are dodgy - but there is a real sense of darkness which feels more faithful to the spirit of the original than most other film or TV versions. Welles as Lear - now there would have been a thing ...

Postscript Jan 2011: Re Welles as Lear, you can now buy a Region 1 DVD of Peter Brook's 1953 cut down version of the play, cutting the Gloucester subplot, for US TV's Omnibus series - a restored version from a kinescope copy, the quality is perfectly acceptable, and it comes with related extras from the series. The company is Koch vision. I cannot speak for the quality of other DVD issues.
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on 20 September 2012
Unfortunately that was the studio attitude toward Welles' career in Hollywood and pretty much how it went after this fascinating but ill-fated production. He would make only one more film in Hollywood (TOUCH OF EVIL) and that was 10 years later. After that only a few finished works and lots of unfinished ones plus his larger than life legacy which has tended to leave most of his lesser films dwelling in the shadows although that is slowly being remedied. In recent years the Shakespearean films have resurfaced in close to their original versions. OTHELLO has been completely restored, A new print of CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (FALSTAFF) was just shown at the Venice Film Festival, and MACBETH can finally be seen the way Welles intended as the current print of the original version has not only been recovered, but restored as well. It looks remarkable and sounds even better with the Scottish accents and Jacques Ibert's music back where they belong. Too bad there are no subtitles for those not used to Shakespearean dialogue.

Here's a brief summary of the movie's history. Welles had mounted his altered version of the play in Salt Lake City after talking Republic Pictures (known for westerns and the occasional quality production like THE QUIET MAN) into financing a film version. The cost was to be around $750,000 and it was shot on Republic soundstages in less than 3 weeks. The Republic executives had it cut from 135 to 107 minutes with Welles' grudging consent and then previewed. The critics hated it, comparing it unfavorably to Olivier's HAMLET which was released the same year. After a brief run it was then cut down to 88 minutes and the dialogue redubbed from the Scots accents into plain English. This really hurt Jeanette Nolan's performance as Lady Macbeth and she got withering reviews. Fortunately she went on to a great career as a character actress. The film flopped and quickly passed into 16mm educational use which is how I first saw it. Seeing the original version that Welles intended is like seeing a completely different film. Not the ideal version of "the Scottish play" but a dark and brooding opus with Welles' signature visual flourishes.
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on 8 March 2006
Welles lost Agnes Moorehead (he owed her money), had a very tight budget, had his soundtrack scrapped when the US studio objected to the brogues, in other words this was a typical Welles production post RKO. All the same, he gets at the dark heart of the play and the character by flashes of crude dark shadows and brilliant moments that are seldom touched in any production. His relatively crude face and heavy voice are actually well suited to MacBeth. The witches and magic, played for real, ground the film in the mud, which is where it belongs. Those who can only appreciate the more ethereal style of Shakespeare will be disappointed. This is the blood and guts.
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on 28 October 2008
the sets are surreal, absolutely perfect, welles gets to grips fully with shakes masterpeice, to me this is easily welles greatest acting, to me no other macbeth film comes even close, probably the one with john finch is a reasonable apprentice. the horror and evil are given full reign,some of the greatest ever moments of film,the camerawork is a work of art in itself,. i cannot understand some reveiwers moaning about the restoration it seems perfect. i have almost worn out my copy i have watched it so many times
casio Mcsmith
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on 24 December 2000
This film is a fairly faithful rendition of Shakespeare's play and personally i believe that it is one of the greatest experimental films ever made under the Hollywood studio system.
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on 1 October 2003
I got this for my wife who is taking GSCE English (she's Romanian so doesn't have such a qualification).
Firstly it says its restored, well if it is its not a good job. The sound in places is still muffled or silent and there are still pops and bubbles on the B/W film.
HOWEVER the film itself is excellent and Orson Welles (looking remarkably like Darren Clarke the golfer) plays and directs the film in a very traditional manner and anyone who enjoys Shakespear will enjoy this. The feigned Scottish accents on occassion get to your nerves, and apart from the unrestoredness of the "restored" film, it is a classic, much like a classic novel.
Don't expect light entertainment or a Brannaghesque Film. Expect a bigger Stage Play and thats what you get.
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This is one of the best versions of macbeth I have seen this was one of the first Shakespeare storys bought to film, made in 1948 within 21 days this movie by or son welles is gritty.
I bought this after seeing the newest version of macbeth starring Micheal fassbender for me this version is better it is closer to the play orson wells did a fantastic job as director and actor playing macbeth.
Each actor did a fantastic job I have never seen this before so I can not make a opinion on the restoration from the original but what I can tell you is the picture is crisp and clear.
This film would be great material for any study courses on William Shakespeare macbeth as it is as more authenticity with the play than any other version so far.
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on 13 November 2006
If this movie is restored then I'm Santa Claus. The print is quite rough so I have no clue how they can claim it's restored unless it was restored by a blind person. Also, the reason I bought this version is because right there on the Amazon page it states it has a featurette.... Featurette - 1. Orson Welles' RETURN TO GLENNASCAUL. Nope, it doesn't have any such thing. Not sure who had their head up their butts on this release but somebody did. Great film.. just wait for a better DVD release.
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on 30 May 2015
I will not pretend that this is the best English ever spoken. not the best set ever seen, but it is a very interesting version of the play and infinitely preferable to either the BBC tepidity of Nicole Williamson, or the over-egged outdoor Macbeth of Peter Finch & Polanski. It has a surreal quality like a nightmare, with a mannerist set and a castle that seems to be hacked out of the rock. It makes you think about the play. it leaves things hanging in the air.... Much here to admire...
I bought a cheap version and have no regrets.
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