Orson Welles Eric Bentley - Essay

Eric Bentley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[We get from Orson Welles] pathetically puerile entertainments: the movie Macbeth with Scotch accents affected by assorted amateurs from Utah…. And now Othello, a film bad from every point of view and for every public. It is, technically, gauche, the dialogue being all too obviously dubbed. It lacks popular appeal, as the story is neither simply nor skilfully told. To connoisseurs of Shakespeare, it can only be torture. And to the dwindling number of Welles admirers, the unhappy few among whom I count myself, it is one more disappointment. One is tempted to say that, while Shakespeare turned a sensational tale into high tragedy, Orson Welles has turned the tragedy back into a sensational tale. But this is to flatter Mr. Welles, who shows no sense of narrative, that is, of the procession of incidents, but only an interest in the incidents themselves—no, not even that, but only an interest in separate moments within the incidents, and this just for the opportunity they offer for effects, visual and auditory. Many of these effects are superb. Who but Welles would have given the curtain rings such a strident sound? Who but he would have set the opening of the temptation scene … to the clump of the actors' shoes on stone? If there were a real mind in charge of the production as a whole, Orson Welles would be the greatest assistant director of all time. (pp. 21-2)

[The] whole film is a precise example of formalistic decadence. Very much an Art Film, Othello is a rag-bag of the ideas of yesterday's avant-garde…. Even a Wellesite like myself, interested in each image as it impinges on the retina, sadly realizes at the close that the images add up to nothing. (p. 22)

Eric Bentley, "Theatre: 'Othello'," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1955 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 133, No. 14, October 3, 1955, pp. 21-2.