Shakespeare's tragic tale of the rise and fall of an ambitious 12th-century Scottish warrior has proven irresistible to filmmakers. This is the first of several adaptations featured in our collection.
Orson Welles was so anxious to transfer the play to the screen that he agreed to the demands of his parent studio, Republic Pictures, that he shoot his version of MacBeth in 23 days on standing B-western sets in Hollywood. This version of the Scottish play never gets anywhere near Scotland.
The result may not be the best-ever cinematic MacBeth, but it is certainly filled with mood and atmosphere. Welles the director casts himself as the title role, with many of his radio regulars giving support. The original play is cut viciously to fit the 92 minute running time so a new character is added called ‘Holy Father’ who patches over gaps in story continuity with some faux Shakespearean narration. Welles originally instructed his actors to deliver their dialogue in a thick Scots burr, but this proved so incomprehensible to preview audiences that Republic ordered the film to be completely redubbed.
There are some visual stand-outs though: MacBeth's tremulous encounter with Banquo's ghost; an extended monologue in which only MacBeth's head is illuminated; and the weird audio outbursts of the three witches.