in about 100 words or less
Spain/Switzerland 119m, B&W
Director: Orson Welles; Cast: Orson Welles, Keith Baxter, John Gielgud, Jeanne Moreau, Margaret Rutherford, Marina Vlady, Fernando Rey
A brilliant adaptation and interweaving of a number of Shakespeare’s plays, Chimes at Midnight brings to the forefront, Falstaff, a relatively minor recurring character whose colossal figure in this film is wholly inhabited by Welles. A striking and gorgeously shot production, this is the story of Prince Hal, a young man who spends much of his time carousing with unsavory characters at the Boar’s Head Tavern with his good friend and fellow thief, John Falstaff. An utter disappointment to his father Henry IV, the young Prince knows that duty will eventually put an end to his carefree life. Perhaps the finest film adaptation of any of Shakespeare’s works, Chimes at Midnight is a wonderfully comedic tragedy of friendship, family and inevitable betrayal (Klaus Ming October 2016).
Perhaps not Welles’ greatest film (bearing in mind that he’s probably my all-time favorite director who isn’t named “Robert Altman,” so even his second or third best would probably be in my all-time Top Ten), but absolutely wonderful.
I do think it’s Welles’ best screen performance as an actor. As he said:
“What is difficult about Falstaff is that he is the greatest conception of a good man, the most completely good man, in all drama. His faults are so small and he makes tremendous jokes out of little faults. But his goodness is like bread, like wine…”
When I saw Braveheart I thought the battle scenes were reminiscent of the (amazing) battle scenes in this film, but I just thought that was evidence that I was too obsessed with Welles. Later, though, I saw an interview with Mel Gibson where he said that he had consciously modeled the battle scenes in his movie on the ones here.
I agree, I think this is Welles’ best performance as an actor. I’ve already re-watched the film – with the James Naremore commentary which provided a lot of interesting insights. The interview with Keith Baxter was also excellent – particularly his personal interactions with Welles outside of the production.
I really wanted to add something about the battle scene – which was spectacular for the budget Welles had to work with. I’ll save it for my Top100 (1000 word) post for Chimes 🙂
My only criticism of this film is the poor sound – which apparently was a budgetary limitation.