DVD Review: Macbeth (1948)

STUDIO: Olive Films | DIRECTOR: Orson Welles | CAST: Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Roddy McDowall, Dan O’Herlihy,  Alan Napier, Erskine Sanford, Edgar Barrier
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 9/18/2012 | PRICE: DVD $24.95, Blu-ray $29.95
SPECS: NR | 107 min. | Drama | 1.37:1 widescreen | mono

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall


Orson Welles’ (Citizen Kane, The Stranger) 1948 take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth is moody, dark, forceful and oh-so-Wellesian.

Macbeth movie sceneSeeing Macbeth for the first time after having heard a lot about it over the years, I was most struck by the purity of Welles’ vision for the film. He reportedly looked at the play’s violent setting as a perfect cross between [1939’s] Wuthering Heights and [1935’s] Bride of Frankenstein and that’s sure what I saw on screen. Filled with the deep-focus/canted angle camera work, expressionist lighting and director/producer/adapter/star Welles’ strong screen presence, Macbeth certainly plays like, well, an Orson Welles film.

Welles made a handful of changes to Shakespeare’s play in his screen adaptation—he shuffles around scenes and speeches and adds an additional character, The Holy Man, along with playing up the roles of the three witches and giving them an additional scene at the end. But that didn’t hinder my appreciation of the film (I’m not a Macbeth purist or anything), which moves along at a healthy clip and captures the strength and darkness of the material. And it all benefits from the striking cinematography of John L. Russell, who went on to do him most famous black-and-white work as the DP for Hitchcock’s Psycho.

In my mind, there are a pair of outstanding film versions of Shakespeare’s powerful tragedy—Roman Polanski’s 1971 version and Kurosawa’s 1957 Throne of Blood—and this one doesn’t compare to those two. But for followers of The Bard and fans of the ever-ambitious, Olive’s handsomely remastered new edition of Macbeth certainly warrants some attention.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.