Macbeth (1948)

Macbeth (1948), directed by Orson Welles.

The eccentric headgear edition with notably striking photography in a great windy, gloomy castle that is part rocky cavern. The film moves between gritty realism in outdoor scenes with pigs running underfoot, to a more stage-bound filmed play. The set is very large but they don't attempt to conceal the studio location: you can see shadows on the walls and ceiling.

Nice touches:

I had trouble with Orson Welles's performance this time. As Macbeth goes mad he blusters and has staring and madly rolling eyes. This probably worked on stage, and perhaps I'm being unfair: this is a filmed staged play and maybe we should judge the acting accordingly.

The rest of the cast is fine, with Jeanette Nolan hamming it up just a bit as Lady Macbeth, Dan O'Herlihy appropriately fierce as Macduff, and the usually aristocratic Alan Napier pretty spooky as the long-braided Holy Father.

The actors attempt thick Scots accents and I wished for subtitles a couple of times, but it is a short play and pretty well known. That's actually a problem: how to do such a popular story without either lapsing into routine or launching out into the experimentally bizarre?

I think modern horror and action film techniques might be of use here: the Macbeth's murderous unconstrained ambition has opened a breach through which the powers of darkness may enter, turning Scotland into Hell. Malcolm and the English forces are the counter-attack, and we might imagine them being led by heavenly powers in the Harrowing of Hell. That's stretching the text a bit far, although Macduff does say "If thou be'st slain and with no stroke of mine / My wife and children's ghosts will haunt me still", suggesting that he is having his own visions.

I'll have to see Kurosawa's Throne of Blood (1957) again soon.

The historical Macbeth was King of Scotland just before the Norman Conquest of England.

Jacques Ibert score.

Available on Blu-ray from Olive Films. The print has some damage but a few closeups show good detail. No subtitles, alas.