Sir John Falstaff is the hero in this compilation of extracts from Shakespeare's Henry IV and other plays, made into a connected story of Falstaff's career as young Prince Hal's drinking companion. The massive knight roisters with and without the prince, philosophizes comically, goes to war (in his own fashion), and meets his final disappointment, set in a real-looking late-medieval England.
*NOTE: This is a DVD replication and the video/audio quality is excellent. It comes with a reprint of the original DVD packaging.
- Welles' final masterpiece is worth seeking out
This is one of the great Shakespearean adaptations and a true 'lost classic'. It's also the last masterpiece that Orson Welles directed in his lifetime, and with 'Citizen Kane,' 'Magnificent Ambersons' and 'Touch of Evil' comprises a quartet of major cinematic works that he accomplished.
The film is an inventive re-editing and condensation of Shakespeare's plays, spanning from the end of Richard II to the beginning of Henry V. The film focuses on the character of Jack Falstaff, played by Welles himself in a virtuoso performance. Falstaff's relationship with young Prince Hal (later Henry V) is explored, and uncannily parallels Welles' own experience with the young talents of Hollywood.
Chimes at Midnight can be a jarring experience due to inconsistent film quality, low budget sets and Welles' flair for shock cuts, but it's a truly rewarding experience once you adapt to the style and limitations.
There are several great performances, by John Gielgud as Henry IV, Keith Baxter as Hal and Norman Rodway as Hotspur, who seems like a predecessor to Kenneth Branagh.
Chimes at Midnight has a little of everything: low comedy, highly artistic camera angles, exciting battle scenes (the battle of Shrewesbury scene influenced Braveheart) and a deeply moving story that Welles has 'discovered' between the lines of Shakespeare's histories.
- Welles' last flash of genius
Bargain basement sets, poorly synchronized sound, battle scenes with casts of dozens-and Genius..pure, unadulterated genius. Welles, not Olivier, not Branagh, was the supreme transcriber of Shakespeare to the screen, and he did it with a fraction of their resources. Welles takes Shakespeare's great "history plays' about Henry the Fourth and Henry the fifth, and weaves them into a cinematic vision with Falstaff-drunken, cowardly, bawdy, greedy, thieving, yet ever loyal and ever lovable Falstaff_ as the hero.
The title, Chimes at Midnight, is a stroke of genius. He interprets the plays as Shakespeare's half-Catholic, half-Pagan elegy for "merry england', embodied by Falstaff. The very skills that Henry the fifth MUST learn in order to become a "modern', Machiavellian Prince, led him to discard Falstaff and the whole way of life he represents.
Welles captures Falstaff in an unforgettable characterization. This is a beautiful film, for all the cheapness with which it was filmed. In fact, like Macbeth and Othello it is beautiful because it is a "poverty row' film, an exquisite primitive, relying, not on richly colored set or magnificent music, but simply on the grammar of cinema. It is Welles last full vision( I have not seen "F for Fake', so I will not comment on it), and it shows Welles to be a humanistic, compassionate, and deeply spiritual film-maker. SUBLIME
Cast: Orson Welles .... Falstaff
Jeanne Moreau .... Doll Tearsheet
Margaret Rutherford .... Mistress Quickly
John Gielgud .... Henry IV
Michael Aldridge .... Pistol
Tony Beckley .... Ned Poins
Keith Baxter .... Prince Hal.
Chimes at Midnight (1965) (UK)
Falstaff (1966) (Switzerland: German title)
Runtime: 115 min Widescreen
Country: Spain / Switzerland
As a Shakespeare film adaptation it is perhaps second only to Kosinstev's Lear. Watch My Own Private Idaho for a modern equivalent to Falstaff's story.