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on 26 January 2011
This film is a masterpiece. It's my favourite Welles film. I first saw it at the Academy cinema in London in the 60s, and have never forgotten the impact it had on me then.
So why only 1 star ? Well this is an appalling transfer with poor sound and ATROCIOUS image quality.

It's a disgrace that this version is on sale in the UK, and even more of a disgrace that Amazon is taking peoples money for it !

Since writing this review 5 months ago, I've purchased the 'Sinister' version from AMAZON Italy. About 18 euros inc postage. A far better copy than the above, and with the english soundtrack. So please, buy this version !
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on 10 August 2015
This is a comment not about the film itself (wonderful!) but about 3 different releases of the film on DVD: Mr. Bongo—50th Anniversary Restored Edition (a Spanish restoration; 2015), Mr. Bongo regular edition (2012) and the Suevia Films release as "Campanadas a medianoche" (2000). The image quality of the Suevia Films is distinctly inferior to that of the other two versions and the image is far jumpier. The most detail is captured on the Bongo50 version, but this seems to be done by reducing the dynamic range and heightening the exposure level, with the result that the image is really grey & white rather than black & white, and, for a restored version, there's still a lot of noise. In all 3 versions, the image is very soft. A quick search through the web indicates that some unnamed studio has plans to come out with a new release later in 2015, perhaps from the supposedly pristine positive print recently found and shown in France. In any case, this masterpiece of cinematography definitely needs it. None of the 3 versions I've seen is really up to par. Has anyone seen the Sinister Films version (Italy, 2011) or the StudioCanal version (France, 2012) that was quickly suppressed for copyright reasons? All but the last of these is available on amazon.co.uk.
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This is a clever conflation of several Shakespeare plays, filmed in Spain (only occasionally does one miss the verdure of England) and possessed of an amazing energy and exuberance. Such a vivid contrast between the carousing of fat knight and young prince and the high-minded solemnity of the movers and shakers around the King at his court. The battle scene is supreme in cinema, capturing the manic energy, fierce exhilaration and utter horror of the field of screams.

All this may be necessary to offset the awkward motion of the monstrously fat Sir John. Wells certainly is powerful in this seminal role but, the essential difficulty of Shakespeare, I was frequently missing two out of every five words uttered, and so quick some of the dialogue there wasn't time to get the sense of it. If I hadn't read the relevant plays a few years back I would have been lost. I guess being very acquainted with the text is now a prerequisite.

The English actors had the finer diction, befitting the royal line, but what realy impresses is the sheer vitality of the filming. Nothing stuffy or reverential. An action movie with a big heart.
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on 9 November 2012
I have been searching for this on DVD for a long time.
I previously purchased a Korean DVD with Korean Subtitles - it worked, because it gave me the chance to see it, but it was very unclear.
This is Mr. Bongo's version and it rocks - still not HD but it is soooo much better. It is the best copy out there.
If you love Shakespeare and the language of his plays, add to that Orson Welles' skillful direction, you will not be disappointed.
No Subtitles or Special Features.
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on 23 November 2013
Orson Welles's 1966 movie is a magisterial exercise in direction and cinematic storytelling, the work of a genius at the height of his rage and power: a mighty man of art squaring up to Shakespeare and turning the words into movement, music, meaning. A film of wonder in an excellent transcription - at long last. "We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Robert Shallow". Indeed we have. We shall not see Welles's like again - and the supporting cast are all first rate, flying with Welles into regions of magic seldom touched on since. The film was a paean to lost innocence; if it felt lost in 1966, what can we say today, now the media harpies appear to have grabbed all the food and the fun? And do we know it all? No we have lost everything. To look into this film is to look into a lake and see a reflection from the other side, inaccessible, untouchable.
Tobias Churton
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I was lucky enough to see a recent restoration (BFI I think) of this film in my local cinema. It looked fantastic, and miles better than the print on this disc (although there were still some sound sync problems, and the occasional flaw in the film, inherent to the original film stock I believe). I would recommend waiting to see if that restoration comes out on DVD before purchasing this.

All that aside, this is a great film. Orson Welles excels as Falstaff, comic yet tragic, the blustering knight who manages to befriend the King in waiting. He brings out what, for me, are the essential elements of the character. Condensing Henry IV parts 1 and 2, and ignoring the events of The Merry Wives Of Windsor, Welles has managed to get a clear story together that examines Falstaff rather than Prince Hal, an interesting take on these well known plays.

Welles fits the role of the fat knight perfectly, as he chases after women, or wanders around a battlefield avoiding trouble. His take on the role plays up the comic elements, but at times this serves to heighten the tragedy. Also of note is a great performance from John Gielgud as Henry IV. He delivers his lines with such grace, dignity and clear diction that he really is a joy to watch.

The all important final scene, where Falstaff is rejected by Hal has a huge impact on the viewer, and fair takes the breath away.

All in all a great film for anyone who wants an enetertaining and easy introduction to Shakespeare. It is probably one of the more accessible on screen adaptations of the Bard's work. 5 stars.
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on 21 May 2010
I'd always reckoned that AMBERSONS - what we have of it anyway - was Orson's finest work. But now that I've finally seen FALSTAFF properly for the first time (I'd caught it fleetingly on television many years ago) I'm ready to revise my opinion.
Welles' most wise and poignant film begins with two old friends walking in the snow
reminiscing of times gone by and later by flickering firelight - recalling indeed Major Amberson contemplating the end of mortality. It's the most strongly-cast, most humorous and most humanly touching of Orson's pick'n'mix approaches to the Bard, tweaking and reassembling texts to create a freewheeling cinematic vision, eschewing the glamour and formalism of Olivier's films for something starker, edgier, almost primitive, like the muddy grappling of death-throes in the battle of Shrewsbury here. Welles draws from at least five sources to trace the relationship between Shakespeare's corpulent roisterer Sir John Falstaff and the wayward dissolute young Prince Hal as they embrace the low life - drinking, wenching and even indulging in highway robbery while civil war looms over Merrie England. Hal's father King Henry IV uneasily wears a usurper's crown and despairs of his son's irresponsibility as the rival claimants mount a militant challenge. Called to arms Hal and Falstaff go to war together, the old knight running around the battlefield in his outsize armour trying to avoid the fighting while Hal engages and dispatches his opposite number Hotspur. The rebellion is crushed and the eventual death of his father confirms a new sense of duty in Hal. At his coronation as King Henry V he publicly repudiates Falstaff and his old way of life, breaking the old man's heart. As Henry prepares for war against France the dead knight's coffin is trundled away into the distance.. Welles shot the film in Spain, finding locations in Seville hardly changed since medieval days and gathering together an arresting international cast including Keith Baxter as Hal, Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet, Falstaff's favourite whore, and Margaret Rutherford a delightfully frazzled Mistress Quickly. John Gielgud dominates proceedings as the arid guilt-ridden king and it's amusing when the other actors start imitating his mellifluous tones when play-acting in the tavern and Hal takes on some of his inflections when making proclamations as the new monarch. The lucid visual storytelling is spellbinding while free of technical ostentation. A very human film, intimate and mature, and Welles offers his most moving performance as the tragi-comic old blusterer, on his way out but still unprepared for Hal's betrayal in the cathedral when he looks like he's died inside. After the horror-stories in the past about the production-difficulties experienced by this film it's great to report that the Spanish dvd from Suevia Films is an absolute treat to watch.
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on 5 May 2012
Falstaff: Chimes at Midnight is considered to be one of the best Shakespearean films ever made. It is directed by and stars Orson Wells, with Wells playing the part of Falstaff. Falstaf is a big burly man that is more talk than action. While he isn't quite a coward, he is one that would rather use his wit than his brawn, albeit he isn't always so witty and gets duped pretty easily. Just about every action he makes is comic.

Falstaff is inspired by the work of William Shakespeare, taking the fictional charter that appears in several of Shakespeare's plays and making him the center of the story. Set in the early 13th century, we are swept away into a medieval world that is both similar and different than the world we live in today.

Henry IV is concerned about his son's future standing as he spends far too much time drinking and keeping poor company. While the Prince of Wales is goofing off with the likes of Falstaff, his father has much apprehension for the coming events. Sir John Falstaff isn't all to blame, as he isn't in the best of form financially, so the prince himself takes him in to shady acts. But wrong actions and crimes can sometimes be redeemed by the right action, and both are willing to do just that.

Every aspect of this movie is exceptional. Visually, the camera work manages to capture the great height of castle interiors and wide shots that capture the breath and size of their exteriors. From the costumes to the buildings, the historical details are spot on. The battle screen also deserves mentioning, as the level of realism is spectacular. Chimes at Midnight is perfectly cast and for someone to outdo Wells in the role of Falstaff would be no small feat.
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VINE VOICEon 6 June 2016
You have to hand it to Orson Welles – he had the power to shock and surprise right to the end of his life. Granted he made some shocking movies along the way – even the mighty fail occasionally – but there are very few filmmakers credited with the greatest film of all time. After Citizen Kane, which itself attracted much controversy due to its satire on William Randolph Hearst, his career was marked by conflict with his financiers, including the permanent hacking by the studio of his masterpiece The Magnificent Ambersons.

True, he made some astonishing films along the way (I love A Touch Of Evil), but by 1965 almost everyone thought his movie career was washed up, and indeed this illustrious actor, director and producer went on to spend this twilight years making sherry commercials, which is how I remember him in the 70s. Certainly no studio was going to give him unlimited budget and unfettered artistic control ever again, despite his evident genius.

I’ve never seen Chimes at Midnight, a Spanish-Swiss coproduction in English since Hollywood would not touch Welles with a barge pole, before now. Perhaps I assumed it to be just another vehicle for Welles to earn a small living well within his capabilities by hacking Shakespeare, but it was Simon Callow who recently put me right during an excellent talk on Welles, about whom he has written three volumes of biography. Au contraire, it seems not only did Welles consider this film his masterpiece, but Callow himself found this an achingly moving film, sadly neglected and only recently restored to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Certainly Welles attracted a fine international cast of classical actors, with John Gielgud as Henry IV, Ralph Richardson narrating, Margaret Rutherford as a sharp-tongued Mistress Quickly, Fernando Rey as Worcester (albeit dubbed), Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet, Andrew Faulds as Westmoreland, Keith Baxter as Prince Hal and Norman Rodway as Hotspur, to name but a few. He also scored a hit by bringing in French cinematographer Edmond Richard to film in monochrome with glorious contrast, which seems so right in many ways.

The essence of this movie is to fillet dialogue from the historical plays of our illustrious bard (Henry IV parts 1 and 2, Henry V, Merry Wives of Windsor, Richard II), chronologically rearranged and stitched together to tell the story of the tragicomic anti-hero Falstaff, a much loved character whose role and reputation have been re-evaluated on stage in recent years by a succession of very fine actors, and who also appears in at least three operas!

Apart from possessing something close to the figure for Falstaff, Welles demonstrates that his is a worthy addition to the names interpreting this inspired character. Falstaff is a rogue and a knight, more given to wenching, drinking sack and getting up to mischief. He is a coward, for whom fighting for his king is a duty but only to be served without endangering his own life.

However, Falstaff talks up his own bravado, none more so than when Hal, who thinks Falstaff is dead, kills the valiant Hotspur in battle, only for Fat Jack later to claim they fought on and that he struck the fatal blow. The knockabout comedy contrasts sharply with the sober realities of life in court, where Hal knows from his father only too well that he must give up associating with a fat rogue and assume the serious mantle of monarchy.

The film emphasises both the comedy and the pathos of Falstaff’s role, albeit in a more traditional setting than typically employed in stage productions. Most noticeable is how Welles plays up the farce of Falstaff’s band and followers (Pistol, Shallow, Bardolph), but underplays Falstaff in a way that demonstrates the underlying tragedy of the role. The effect is electric later in the film, notably the coronation scene where Falstaff seeks out the newly crowned Henry V, only to be told, “I know thee not, old man.” Falstaff looks back uncomprehendingly, but we can see this to be the end of Falstaff’s life in more ways than one.

The contrast between jovial scenes in the Boar’s Head Tavern and the more formal affairs of state is marked with the Battle of Shrewsbury.According to Callow, when the cameraman suffered a seizure, Welles picked up the camera himself and carried on filming with an intensity rarely mirrored in any movie. These scenes are truly startling and innovative, even now. It is frenzied, vicious, barbaric – remembering there was no CGI to depict the horrors of battle in the way that Game of Thrones has achieved, for example.

This is an astonishing achievement, one for which Welles was justly proud – but it is to the shame of the movie industry that he had to beg, borrow and steal what he could to finance this epic, as he did throughout his entire career. Who knows what Welles might have made, had he not earned a reputation as a dangerous maverick?

(c) Andy Millward, 2016
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on 8 August 2014
Falstaff was one of Shakespeare's most inspired creations and only appears in Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor, unless you include a brief appearance by Fastolfe in Henry VI part I (admittedly his death is described in Henry V). It was an act of genius to dedicate a movie to him and few people have captured the humour, ebullience and pathos behind the character as Welles did. So popular was the creation that in Elizabethan times 'Falstaff' was a household name and it is said that the Queen commended Shakespeare to write a play about him in love - hence The Merry Wives. A liar, a cheat, a thief and completely devoid of scruple Falstaff charms everyone with his wit and talks his way out of trouble as second nature. A comic caricature of decaying feudal England, much of the drama circles around his peculiar relationship with madcap Prince Hal, to which he acts as a foil and substitute father. There are scenes of high comedy - such as the mock interview between Prince and King in the tavern at Eastcheap and the bungled robbery but intermingled are scenes of great pathos - who can forget the scene when Hal finally disowns him ('I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers; / How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!') and the leavetaking between Doll and Falstaff? His pathetic 'I am old, I am old' is met with: 'I love thee better than I love e'er a scurvy young
boy of them all!' Welles plays the role with veuve and sensitivity and his sure directing gives us a movie of atmosphere and excitement. At the end of the epic we mourn the downfall of the fat knight and cheer for him despite ourselves, feeling much sympathy for the man who had 'seen the chimes at midnight' with Justice Shallow and is unable to shrug off his lost youth. This movie gives us a faithful record of Shakespeare's Falstaff while treating the audience to a drama which (unlike Henry IV Part Two) never sags. In my opinion this is Welles' masterpiece.
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