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Macbeth [DVD]

4.5 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Actors: Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O'Herlihy, Roddy McDowall, Edgar Barrier
  • Directors: Orson Welles
  • Writers: Orson Welles, William Shakespeare
  • Producers: Orson Welles, Charles K. Feldman, Richard Wilson
  • Format: Full Screen, PAL
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: PG
  • Studio: Second Sight
  • DVD Release Date: 17 July 2000
  • Run Time: 111 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00004U400
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 34,989 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Product Description

Product Description

The Players:

  • Orson Welles (Macbeth)
  • Jeanette Nolan (Lady Macbeth)
  • Dan O’Herlihy (Macduff)
  • Roddy McDowall (Malcolm)
  • Edgar Barrier (Banquo)
  • Alan Napier (A Holy Father)
  • Erskine Sanford (Duncan)
  • John Dierkes (Ross)
  • Keene Curtis (Lennox)
  • Peggy Webber (Lady Macduff)


Orson Welles' Macbeth is an expressionist masterpiece about a doomed man of ordinary ambition who believes an evil prophecy that he will become King. The shortest of Shakespeare's tragedies, Welles long considered Macbeth to be the most filmable of the Bard's work. Produced on a slim budget over a mere 32 days, the results are consistently impressive. As depicted by Welles, the title character is not a warrior king or conscience-stricken, poetic soul on a par with Hamlet; rather, he is revealed to be a facile, superstitious man consigned to fate even as the character does not trust to fate. For her part, Lady Macbeth (Jeanette Nolan) is merely obsessed with the unimpeded exercise of her will to power, viewing her husband's life as a tale told by an idiot (she is particularly effective during the "out, damned spot" scene from Act V). Welles has also created some new scenes here, conflating several characters into a "Holy Father" (Alan Napier) while eliciting strong supporting turns from actors such as Dan O'Herlihy (Macduff) and Roddy McDowall (Malcolm). All of this unfolds within a highly disordered state in which nature itself is on the rant ("Fair is foul and foul is fair"). Though the technically poor soundtrack and the occasional indecipherable Scottish brogue make the film seem a trifle compromised at times, each moment feels preternaturally alive. There is an almost Brechtian quality here, with Welles giving us splendid pieces then leaving it to us to fit them into a theatrically coherent puzzle. Refusing to believe that Birnham Wood could ever travel to Dunsinane, Macbeth is finally exposed as a man of insufficient character. As such, some might suggest that this Macbeth is more accurately described as the story of how Malcolm became King. --Kevin Mulhall

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Customer Reviews

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Format: DVD
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.
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Format: DVD
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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Format: DVD
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.
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