Monday, May 16, 2011

Chimes at Midnight

Orson Welles, 113m, 1965

The character of Falstaff appears in three of Shakespeare's plays. Orson Welles takes on the daunting task of portraying tis complex comic villain in this compilation from the different plays (Henry IV and V and MWW), bound up in a seamless plot. This is one of the best screen adaptations of Shakespeare. Elizabethan England is brought alive in this boisterous mosaic which takes us through taverns, brothels and the court. Even more than the central characters of Falstaff (played by Orson) or the young and dissolute Prince Hal (later to blossom into the charismatic Henry V) or his antagonist Hotspur, or the aging Henry IV (played by the seasoned Gielgud) is the galaxy of  secondary characters, who have a dickensian vitality even though they are cardboard creatures. Perhaps the most brilliant is Justice Shallow, played by Alan Webb.

The brilliant b/w photography has shades of Citizen Kane with shafts of light streaming in diagonally through skylights or ventilators in darkened interiors. The battle scenes are unusually realistic in their brutality. Falstaff is played with aplomb, but it seems Welles all the way--the identification is uncanny. 


Jack L said...

This one is in my collection, I've got to try and get around to it sometime...

Glad to know it's worth watching!

S. M. Rana said...

Jack L:

Shakespeare would have made a hell of a script writer and his movies would have been blockbusters, because he was never went off mainstream (he had to keep the tellers tinkling).

Falstaff is an often mentioned character and this was an opportunity to get to know this admired yet neglected anti-hero of the great playwright.

Nathanael Hood said...

I think that Falstaff was the role that Welles was born to play.

A phenomenal film!

S M Rana said...

@ Nathanael Hood

Only Welles could have chosen to enact and done justice to this fat ton of lard with spit dribbling from the sides of his mouth-- this boastful, mendacious, good hearted, philosophical, credit usurping, lovable child of Shakespeare. They even say it's the bard's self portrait. Quite a flick, I agree!

Greg said...

And it can be seen on Youtube, since it's STILL not available on DVD in the U.S. (though it's available in other regions):

S. M. Rana said...


Nice to have it on the fingertips--and quality good too! Thanks.