Written by: Michael Den Boer on November 19th, 2016
Theatrical Release Date: USA, 1948
Director: Orson Welles
Writer: William Shakespeare
Cast: Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O’Herlihy, Roddy McDowall, Edgar Barrier, Alan Napier, Erskine Sanford, John Dierkes, Keene Curtis, Peggy Webber
BluRay released: November 15th, 2016
Approximate running time: 107 Minutes (1948 Version), 85 Minutes (1950 Version)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (Both Versions)
Rating: NR (Both Versions)
Sound: DTS-HD Mono English (Both Versions)
Subtitles: English SDH (Both Versions)
BluRay Release: Olive Films
Region Coding: Region A
Retail Price: $39.95
Macbeth was directed by Orson Welles who quickly rose to fame with his Hollywood debut film Citizen Kane, a film which is widely regarded as one of greatest films ever made. Welles would not only direct Citizen Kane, he would write, produce and not to be overlooked act in the role of its main character. Unfortunately for Welles his start would fade as quickly as it rose and by the time his second film The Magnificent Ambersons was released, albeit in a heavily edited version of Welles final cut. His career as an actor continued to flourish, though his desire to direct would be put on back burner until he was given the opportunity to direct The Stranger. From there a year lady he would follow that film up with The Lady from Shanghai (another film that befell a heavily edited version) and shortly thereafter he would get his chance to finally direct Shakespeare with Macbeth.
A lifelong fan of Shakespeare, Welles would adapt his writings for the theater and stage throughout his career as a filmmaker. And though there had been other Shakespeare film adaptions before Welles Macbeth, it is safe to say that look, sound and feel like Welles interpretation. Limited resources never stifled Welles creativity, in fact one could argue that some of his best work as a filmmaker were projects that he had least amount of resources to work with. With that being said, Welles for Macbeth would take existing sound stages and refashion them for his purposes. He would also have the cast record all of their dialog ahead of time and play it back while filming their scenes.
At first glance because of the artificial nature of this film production this film comes off like one would except a theater stage play too. And yet there are also many moments which are undeniable cinematic in their execution. Fortunately, these two rival ways of presenting a story come off without a hinge and this is due to Welles unique way of seeing the world through the lens of his eyes. Needless to say, this film far exceeds expectations when it comes to its atmospheric visuals which do a superb job setting the mood.
There are two versions of Welles Macbeth due to studio interference once again. Besides removing twenty minutes of footage. The studio re-edit released in 1950 also features a different audio track. This is due to Welles cut featuring a thick Scottish accent that they felt that audiences would have difficulty understanding. And though for historical reasons it is good to have this alternate version. There is no denying that Welles director’s cut for the film is the vastly superior version.
Both versions of Macbeth are presented on their own 50 GB dual layer BluRay. Both versions have been flagged for progressive playback and both versions are presented in its intended 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Both versions are given brand new transfers that greatly improve upon their previous releases. Details look crisp, contrast and black levels remain solid throughout. Grain looks natural and there are no issues with DNR or compression.
Both versions come with one audio option, a DTS-HD mono mix in English. There are no issues with background noise, dialog comes through clearly and everything sounds balanced. Both versions also come removable English SDH subtitles.
Extras for this release are spread over two discs.
Extras on disc one include, an audio commentary with Welles biographer Joseph McBride.
Topics discussed in the audio commentary include, the differences between the 1948 & 1950 versions of the film, how the longer full length version was restored in 1980, Welles and his numerous Shakespeare adaptions, how Macbeth is the closest Welles ever got to making a Horror film, Republic Pictures, how the film was shot on sound stages and did not go over its budget, Welles being listed and how after Macbeth he would not make another Hollywood film until Touch of Evil, the cast & info about them, the visuals and how Welles often used longer takes, the look of the film & how it does not represent a realistic version of Scotland and other production related topics.
Extras on disc two include, an interview titled Welles and Shakespeare with Welles expert professor Michael Anderegg (11 minutes 54 seconds), an interview titled That was Orson Welles filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich (9 minutes 49 seconds), a featurette titled Adapting Shakespeare on Film (8 minutes 18 seconds), an from We Work Again, a 1937 WPA documentary containing scenes from Welles’ Federal Theatre Project production of Macbeth (7 minutes 14 seconds), a featurette titled Restoring Macbeth (8 minutes 20 seconds) and featurette titled Free Republic: The Story of Herbert J. Yates and Republic Pictures (6 minutes 33 seconds).
The extras titled Welles and Shakespeare is a detailed overview of Welles theater and film adaptions of Shakespeare.
Topics discussed in the interview with Peter Boogdanovich include, how he was asked to be part of Welles retrospective in 1961, his first encounter with Welles and how it lead to a lifelong friendship, his yet to be published interview book with Welles, The Other Side of the Wind and Welles legacy as a filmmaker.
The featurette Free Republic: The Story of Herbert J. Yates and Republic Pictures gives a detailed account of how the Republic Pictures came into existence. Unfortunately, this extra is at best just a primer as a large section of Republic’s story is not covered. And it should be noted that this extra does discuss Welles Macbeth.
Rounding out the extras is an eight-page booklet with an essay titled Orson Welles Macbeths written by Jonathan Rosenbam. This extra can also be accessed on the Blu-Ray disc in the extras section. Overall Macbeth gets a definitive release from Olive Films via their Signature line, highly recommended.
Note: This film is also being released by Olive Films on DVD.