macbeth (1948)

"Orson Welles' Macbeth leaves the spectator deaf and blind and I can well believe that the people who like it (and I am proud to be one) are few and far between . . ."

(Jean Cocteau)

Welles was not one to be dissuaded from filming the legendarily cursed play. His Macbeth was an experiment in movie-making, and not a completely successful one.

It was shot in three weeks for under $200,000 for (of all things) Republic Pictures, mostly known as a "B" picture studio. Welles thought that if he succeeded, other directors would tackle challenging projects by substituting creativity and primitive images for lavish sets and production values. Also, he wanted to disprove the assertion that dogged him for his entire career that he couldn't complete a movie on time and within budget.

The result was a powerful film in its way, but mainly for people who are already familiar with the play. If somebody didn't know Macbeth, you probably wouldn't introduce them to it with this movie. It was all shot on sound-stages, with much mist and strange lighting and shadows. The costumes are clunky-looking and primitive (some quite realistic for the era of the play). The cast is composed of Welles' stalwarts, some radio performers and even a few members of Welles' family. He tried to get Agnes Moorehead to play Lady Macbeth (which would have helped quite a bit) but her schedule didn't permit it, so he cast Jeanette Nolan instead. Welles himself (of course) played Macbeth.


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