MACBETH. Republic Pictures, 1948. Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O’Herlihy, Roddy McDowall, Edgar Barrier, Peggy Webber. Adapted by Orson Welles (uncredited) from the play by William Shakespeare. Director: Orson Welles.

   On most occasions I need only the flimsiest of excuses to speak of Welles’ 1948 film of Macbeth, which he did for peanuts on the back lots at Republic Studios.

MACBETH Orson Welles

   Like most of his films, it was badly mauled before release, including completely new dubbing and the excision of about 20 minutes running time. It is now, however, restored and available on videotape, and you should run out and get it.

   Someone — me, I think — once said that every hardboiled novel and film noir owes a debt to Shakespeare. Welles seems to have sensed this, turning Macbeth into a very noirish-looking film indeed, with lots of shadows and heavy fog to hide the cheap sets, vaguely menacing blackmailers and detective-types, and a Lady Macbeth (Jeanette Nolan) straight out of James M. Cain.

   Edgar Barrier, normally a rather inexpressive actor, offers a fascinating interpretation of Banquo as co-conspirator, and Dan O’Herlihy makes a tough MacDuff. Welles naturally has a lot of fun with himself as Macbeth, lurching about drunk most of the time, and he has the whole cast speak in beautifully thick Scottish Brogue, so that “Sleep no more, Macbeth has murdered Sleep” comes out: “Slyeep nae Mairlrlrl, MaycBayth hae Mairlrlrlredairlrlrlred Slyeep!”

   A bit hard to follow in the denser passages, but fun to listen to.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #52, March 1992.

MACBETH Orson Welles