U.S.A. • 1948 • BLACK AND WHITE • 35MM • 107 MIN

Welles’ first film assault on Shakespeare has a stark, barbaric intensity, a fidelity to the play’s images of social chaos and primal psychological terror, but little regard for the niceties of language or drama. Macbeth was an attempt on Welles’ part to contain his own reputation, to produce a classical costume drama on minimal resources, in record time, and thus prove that artistic originality didn’t necessarily mean indulgence and excess. As an experiment it was ingenious. Welles took the project to Republic Pictures, home of quickie, cheapie productions, and proposed shooting Macbeth inside three weeks for less than $200,000. The results, not surprisingly, look both painstaking and hastily stuck together, overpowering in its atmosphere of guilt and self-ordained tragedy, and yet inchoate at the dramatic level, as if half the play was lost in the fogs that perpetually shroud Macbeth’s mind. The final product is neither quite theatre nor film, nor Shakespeare — but it is brazenly, defiantly, all Welles. In that respect alone, however much he has lost of the Bard’s text, Welles has caught something essential of his dark and dangerous art.

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