Macbeth (1948)

by Paul on September 26, 2012

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In 1948, Orson Welles released his screen adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Both at that time and in the years since, his movie has been looked down on for being incomplete and unfaithful to Shakespeare’s original work. InMacbeth addition, the great Laurence Olivier released his Hamlet at almost the exact same time, and in comparison, Welles’ movie looks slightly inferior…but perhaps that was Welles’ goal.

Macbeth was Orson Welles’ fifth directorial effort, and he was only 33 at the time of its release. Since his previous films had some financial difficulties, no studio wanted to make something as risky as a Shakespeare adaptation with Welles in charge. He went to Republic Pictures and they agreed to join forces with him because they were looking to expand their films to include a “high class” quality of film. They gave Orson Welles $700,000, and he agreed to pay any overages. He also set himself on a regimented shooting schedule, where he only allowed himself 23 days to shoot the film. He used as Macbethmany sets and costumes that had been left behind from previous movies (mostly westerns) from Republic Studios, in order to keep the cost as low as possible. Essentially, Welles was trying to prove that you could make a film adaptation of a Shakespeare play without spending too much of the studio’s time or money.

Now admittedly the problem within this film is the script itself. A short shooting schedule required extensive cuts to be made. Welles’ Macbeth is very short (107 minutes) considering the original text. Many critics didn’t like Welles’ editing and changing of the story, but he was a man on a mission and he needed keep his movie (and himself) in control. These days most adaptations are expected to exclude large amounts of text, and perhaps in some way MacbethMacbeth showed filmmakers that it was possible, when necessary, to make those tough cuts. Not every Shakespeare movie can run over three hours.

Luckily for Macbeth, Welles brought his amazing directorial abilities, as well as his brilliant knowledge of using light and shadows, to accomplish more for the overall feeling of this film than if he would have spent a small fortune on grandiose sets. If you turn the volume down on your TV and you just watch the “art” of Macbeth, you will truly be blown away by what an exquisite film this is aesthetically.

The beauty of this film lies not in where Welles went wrong, but in what Welles was able to achieve. This was the first ever major film adaptation of Macbeth, and only the fourth Shakespeare adaptation Macbethsince the introduction of sound.  His film came in on time without spending any extra studio money.  When he decided to make a Shakespeare movie, at first he had chosen Othello, but in the end he decided it was going to be too expensive. Based on his accomplishments with Macbeth, for Welles’ next directorial movie he was able to get financing and at last be able to make Othello.

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