Orson Welles Gordon Gow - Essay

Gordon Gow

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Well disposed as I am toward the Orson Welles Macbeth and Othello, I feel bound to call his Chimes at Midnight the most mature of his Shakespearean excursions, and to hope at the same time that my use of the word 'mature' will not be taken amiss. This film is not only cinematic but also profound….

[Chiefly] it is Welles as cinéaste, rather than just actor, that the film places in a true perspective. At the time of Citizen Kane I was sure, and then over the years I doubted slightly, but now I am certain again that no greater man of the cinema has ever lived. Chimes at Midnight is a masterpiece….

If the compositions are less extravagant than is the norm in a Welles film, they are never less than pertinent, and among them there is a striking one that sets Henry IV and Hal in a great shaft of light from a window of the castle, when, seen from a distance, enclosed by the austere stone walls, the image suggests the isolation of kingship more eloquently than words … even Shakespeare's….

[The] battle that is waged when the rebels take arms against the crown brings a stronger complexity with it. Boldly, Welles has combined a richness of low comedy with the stark and inhuman aspect of war…. Encompassing the realistic and the absurd, and relating the one to the other, Welles has also maintained the essential sadness of an elegy … a lament for pleasure that cannot continue.

Gordon Gow, "'Chimes at Midnight'" (© copyright Gordon Gow 1967; reprinted with permission), Films and Filming, Vol. 13, No. 8, May, 1967, p. 25.