Macbeth (1948)

It’s difficult, even for a very forgiving fan like me, to not wonder if much of the now-celebrated innovations of Orson Welles’ later-career output weren’t just the manifestation of restlessness and hostility. Macbeth (1948), Welles’ adaptation of the Scottish play, was not the first film of his finished by someone else, but it would be the first of many of his films to be released in multiple versions. Audiences, critics and studios alike found his work confusing, indulgent and wildly out of sync with the times. It’s a more or less straightforward adaptation as far as plot and character motivation goes, but visually and conceptually, Welles’ Macbeth was probably one of the oddest films anyone of the time had ever seen. As Macbeth (Welles), a celebrated Scottish soldier in the 11th century, and his general Banquo (Edgar Barrier) are riding home, they stumble across three gruesome witches, all praising a clay effigy of Macbeth and promising he is to become King of Scotland. Though Macbeth is unsure of his destiny, Lady Macbeth (Jeanette Nolan) is not, and urges her husband to kill King Duncan (Erskine Sanford) and essentially chase off his son Malcolm (Roddy McDowell) so he can claim the throne for himself. Once the deeds are done, more killings are required, the paranoia, guilt, madness and death are the result. Macbeth is an uneven film, surely intentionally, but its schizophrenic nature doesn’t always work. Welles is a fine if workmanlike Macbeth, while Jeanette Nolan is revelatory as the over-heated … Continue reading