Orson Welles Robert Downing - Essay

Robert Downing

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Orson Welles' Othello is as moody, flamboyant and full of contradictions as its producer-adapter-director-star. Nevertheless, and notwithstanding many imperfections, Welles' Othello is a worthy attempt to bring Shakespeare to the screen.

The text has been industriously deleted and re-arranged…. But in certain passages Welles cut too deeply.

Emilia's character … is not properly established, and her relationship with Iago is not made clear until quite late. Cutting harms Desdemona's part…. While it is not necessary to feel "sympathy" for the Moor, one might understand him better in this film had Welles relied more on Shakespeare's lines than on brooding, wide-eyed, close-ups of himself. Welles is too detached, cold-blooded, and watchful in his portrayal. His reading of the closing speech, however, is masterly. (p. 341)

Othello's photography is varied indeed. Many scenes are brilliantly composed, lighted and photographed; others are pale, trembling, and even out of focus. Good use is made of Venetian architecture. The music of Francesco Lavagnino and Alberto Barberis also helps to evoke the medieval spirit, though the recording is ragged. The dubbing is execrable, and lip synchronization is almost never achieved.

Othello is stamped with Orson Welles' amazing insight and gross negligence. But it is not a film that will be forgotten. Should Welles become able to discipline his genius, and should he have access to enough money to give his talents free play, he might yet provide the screen with its best Shakespeare. (pp. 341-42)

Robert Downing, "Film Reviews: 'Othello'," in Films in Review (copyright © 1955 by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, Inc.), Vol. VI, No. 7, August-September, 1955, pp. 341-43.