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on May 12, 2006
The search for Orson Welles' late masterpiece "Chimes at Midnight" just got a little easier. A Brazilian DVD import takes the Welles classic into the digital age and offers an alternative to the out-of-print Arthur Cantor VHS release.

"Chimes at Midnight" 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 by Welles. Though rarely seen, "Chimes at Midnight" has influenced modern filmmakers. Mel Gibson, for example, admitted the famous "Battle of Shrewesbury" scene influenced his own "Braveheart."

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 shifts the focus from the titular English kings to 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.

There are several great performances, by John Gielgud as Henry IV, Keith Baxter as Hal, Kenneth Branagh look-alike Norman Rodway as Hotspur, Welles regular Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet, and the great Dame Margaret Rutherford (of "Miss Marple" fame) as Mistress Quickly.

"Chimes at Midnight" can be a jarring experience due to inconsistent film quality, low budget sets and Welles' flair for shock cuts. Once you adapt to the style and limitations, it's a truly rewarding experience. Welles has found a deeply moving story between the lines of Shakespeare's histories.

"Chimes at Midnight" was Welles' final attempt to popularize Shakespeare for the masses. With any luck, this film will eventually reach the wider audiences that Welles failed to achieve in his lifetime.
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on June 9, 2008
FYI - Amazon combines reviews across different versions and sometimes this is unhelpful. This review is specific to the "Hollywood's Attic" (aka "Nostalgia Family Video") version (it has a pink/orange cover with a drawing of Welles as Falstaff) as opposed to the Brazilian/Portuguese version (close-up sepia-toned photo of Welles and Jeanne Moreau on the cover). [Not a child as I'd originally thought]

I'm not going to argue quality of transfer or mastering as I'm really not a great judge of those things. I do want to warn people that the copies available here seem to all be DVD-R's and not commercially produced DVD's.

This, of course, means that they won't last as long and are more fragile. The film is perfectly watchable - I just thought people should know before they buy (and the sellers don't seem to be inclined to put this in their listings - which I find somewhat shady)
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on November 11, 2005
I first saw this film in 1967, and I remember it as if I just stepped out of the theater. Great films affect us this way and this is a great film. The camera work and the pacing will remind you of Kurosawa and Kubrick, and that in turn will remind you how much these great film makers owe to Welles. Each scene is perfect. The actors don't act, they breathe the life that is in their characters. When Welles swaggers as Falstaff, you believe Falstaff and love him and trust him and distrust him. When he is rejected by Hal at the end of the film, you feel that all the world's sorrow is embedded in Falstaff, this dying old man.

Really, this film finally is as great as Citizen Kane, and perhaps even a little greater because what Welles does here more successfully than he did in Kane is that he is not afraid to show us what happens when a human heart reaches beyond itself and fails to touch another human heart. In Kane, Welles could imagine that tragedy but here in Chimes at Midnight he lives it.
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on August 4, 2004
What a shame it is that Orson Welles' "Chimes at Midnight" isn't currently available on DVD. I was extremely fortunate to receive a VHS version as a gift before the usual legal wrangling over Welles' later works forced it out of print. According to wellesnet.com, a Spanish DVD is available, and there are plans to re-release it in the US, hopefully sometime after October 2004. Enter your email address in the "E-mail me when available" field on this site; you'll also be "voting" for the DVD's release!

(Since the film is currently unavailable in the United States, the following review is based on film screenings and the VHS copy I have. I'll update my review if and when the DVD is released in the US).

"Chimes at Midnight" 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 by Welles. Though rarely seen, "Chimes at Midnight" has influenced modern filmmakers. Mel Gibson, for example, admitted the famous "Battle of Shrewesbury" scene influenced his own "Braveheart."

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 shifts the focus from the titular English kings to 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 experiences with the young talents of Hollywood.

There are several great performances, by John Gielgud as Henry IV, Keith Baxter as Hal, Kenneth Branagh look-alike Norman Rodway as Hotspur, Welles regular Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet, and the great Dame Margaret Rutherford (of "Miss Marple" fame) as Mistress Quickly.

"Chimes at Midnight" can be a jarring experience due to inconsistent film quality, low budget sets and Welles' flair for shock cuts. Once you adapt to the style and limitations, it's a truly rewarding experience. Welles has found a deeply moving story between the lines of Shakespeare's histories.

"Chimes at Midnight" was Welles' final attempt to popularize Shakespeare for the masses. With any luck, this film will eventually reach the wider audiences that Welles failed to achieve in his lifetime.
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on August 3, 2012
Finally, a neglected classic gets its due.

Released in 1965, Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight (1965) has been difficult to find for years due to dispute in the ownership and the Orson Welles estate. Even harder to find was the right DVD that would give it the proper picture and audio quality. Yes, there were some good quality imports like the Brazilian import and the Spanish import with the pink DVD case cover (1965) but both of them are out of stock and, in the case of the Brazilian copy, very expensive to buy. Like other Shakespeare adaptations by Orson Welles (Macbeth, Othello), Chimes at Midnight seemed destined to be lost out of the public's eye forever.

That all changed in 2011 when Mr. Bongo released a R2 DVD of Chimes at Midnight in the UK to critical acclaim. Then in May of 2012, an all-region import of the Mr. Bongo DVD was brought to American soil. Despite some initial skepticism on my part, the Mr. Bongo version of Chimes is a revelation: the picture quality is excellent and most, if not all, the post-dubbing problems that plagued the picture have been fixed. Only the lack of subtitles is the DVD's main drawback. When all is said and done, the Mr. Bongo import of Chimes at Midnight is easily the best and most accessible version of the movie to get.

As for the movie itself, Chimes is absolutely deserving of the many accolades bestowed upon it, something that can't be said for many Orson Welles movies before and after. Condensing several of William Shakespeare's plays into one movie, Chimes is a visual marvel, with its superb camera work, expressive shadows and complex angles that will delight anyone who has enjoyed Citizen Kane (1941) or Touch of Evil (1958) for those same reasons. Undeniably, the centerpiece of Chimes is the amazing Battle of Shrewesbury scene, with its ferocious editing, dynamic action and gritty realism that has inspired many great cinematic battles including the Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan (1998) and most of the battles in Braveheart (1995)

Equally superb is the acting, especially by Welles as the cowardly buffoon Falstaff and Keith Baxter as the troubled Hal, who must choose between his duty as prince or his life in indulging with Falstaff. The climatic scene where Hal finally rejects Falstaff in favor of his ascension to kingdom is one of the most moving scenes in all of Orson Welles' movies. Falstaff's stunned facial expression at being turned down by his friend will linger on after the movie's end.

Chimes at Midnight is an absolute masterpiece and easily ranks with many of Orson Welles' best movies, including Citizen Kane (1941) and Touch of Evil (1958). It took forever to find the right DVD that would give Chimes the presentation that it deserves. Mr. Bongo does moviegoers proud by taking this classic and restoring it to vivid life. You owe it to yourself to pick this movie.

Strongest recommendation.
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on August 2, 2004
What a shame it is that Orson Welles' "Chimes at Midnight" isn't currently available in any form. I was extremely fortunate to receive a similar VHS version (English language, no subtitles) as a gift before the usual legal wrangling over Welles' later works forced it out of print. If you can get this one used, by all means go for it!

"Chimes at Midnight" 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 by Welles. Though rarely seen, "Chimes at Midnight" has influenced modern filmmakers. Mel Gibson, for example, admitted the famous "Battle of Shrewesbury" scene influenced his own "Braveheart."

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 shifts the focus from the titular English kings to 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.

There are several great performances, by John Gielgud as Henry IV, Keith Baxter as Hal, Kenneth Branagh look-alike Norman Rodway as Hotspur, Welles regular Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet, and the great Dame Margaret Rutherford (of "Miss Marple" fame) as Mistress Quickly.

"Chimes at Midnight" can be a jarring experience due to inconsistent film quality, low budget sets and Welles' flair for shock cuts. Once you adapt to the style and limitations, it's a truly rewarding experience. Welles has found a deeply moving story between the lines of Shakespeare's histories.

"Chimes at Midnight" was Welles' final attempt to popularize Shakespeare for the masses. With any luck, this film will eventually reach the wider audiences that Welles failed to achieve in his lifetime.
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on July 19, 2006
This is Welles' most personal film; deftly editing Shakespeare's Henry IV plays, bits of Henry V and Merry Wives of Windsor, Welles tells the tragedy of Falstaff, the purest good man in all of English drama. The fat knight, who forsakes chivalrous blood-letting for merry cowardice, wine, women and song, represents all the virtues of a pre-modern England to be swept away by his protege, the politic, cunning, war-mongering Prince Hal. When Hal turns his back on Falstaff, who responds "Banish plump Jack and you banish all the world," this is Orson Welles speaking directly to an audience that had banished him since "Citizen Kane." This is his most personal, autobiographical film -- as if Welles stripped off the disguises he'd been wearing for years, let his fat and premature age and alternating gaiety and sadness be exposed to the camera, and truly found himself in Shakespeare.

Shot in Spain in the mid-60's on a meagre budget, but with a splendid cast of UK thespians, Welles here abandoned the pyrotechnic, baroque style of his famous films for a simple, almost John Ford-like elegance. His own performance as Falstaff is the most nuanced, subtle acting he ever did, without mannerism, a subdued and melancholy Falstaff who knows his era is passing. Years ago, I saw a lousy dupe print of this, and it has been out of circulation for years. I have heard its reappearence has been held up in some sort of legal limbo; too bad -- Chimes At Midnight cries out for the restoration that lesser Welles films like Mr Arkadin and Othello have already received.

A final note -- while this movie is notable for its relative simplicity of style, there is one amazing sequence -- Welles' wordless rendering of the battle of Shrewsbury, which begins with chivalric pageantry and ends in slow-motion as knights hack one another to death in the mud; a battle scene that rivals Kurosawa and Eisenstein, and shows that the trickster had a few moves up his sleeve in the twilight of his broken career.
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on January 16, 2006
Simply stated: His best movie, without diminishing any of his other great ones that everybody may think about. It is amazing how this has not been released in dvd yet in America.

It has the best scenes of medieval war (or for that matter, anytime war) in film history. Pay special attention to it: it's mesmerizing.

It is Shakespeare's best adaptation to a screen, whether it is more faithful or not I don't know.

It has the added value (in my opinion) of watching the wonderful Jean Moreau and Welles together.

It's just a perfect movie, regardless of being an adaptation of Shakespeare's or not, beautiful, deep, tragic and comic. A work of art.

(Also among my favorites of Welles are: The Stranger & The Lady from Shanghai)
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HALL OF FAMEon September 6, 2005
I first read about CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT in a contemporary review in TIME magazine, which gave it a glowing notice; odd for TIME which had previously massacred each one of Welles' films, picking them apart for their perceived shortcomings and failing to register their beauties. Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees, but by 1966 the air had cleared a bit and the anonymous reviewer gave it four stars, finally acknowledging Welles' enduring contribution to world cinema. When I went to see the movie the theater was packed, not only with film fans, but with Shakespeare fans as well, all of us wondering how Welles managed to jam in three of Shakespeare's plays into one scenario.

The movie was filmed over time, so there are some gaps in continuity, though the time was not as long as that spent filming the unfinished DON QUIXOTE project. Welles must have had John Gielgud for ninety minutes, you can tell all his scenes were filmed on the same day. Nevertheless Gielgud gives a great performance, the equal to any of his Shakespearean film roles (too bad he never committed his Romeo to celluloid) as Henry the Fourth. Gus Van Sant might have used Gielgud when he made his post-modern version of the same material in MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, he could have played Keanu Reeves' disapproving dad just as well as the guy who did so.

Jeanne Moreau is arresting as Doll Tearsheet, the tavern wench who serves as a sort of Miss Kitty romance for the aging Falstaff. She has a luminous beauty, extremely thin, Kate Moss thin, so sometimes it almost seems as though you can see the wallpaper behind her back. It is rumored that Welles considered Eartha Kitt for the part; Welles and Kitt had worked together on stage ten years before, and he remained fond of the demanding, fiery singer and actress. Accompanying Moreau is Margaret Rutherford, Miss Marple in the movies, reminding us once again what an exquisite actress she could be when reined in. Marina Vlady, an icon of the French nouvelle vague due to her leading role in Godard's TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER, is Lady Percy, who deplores Harry's switch from loving her to loving war more. "Tell me sweet lord, what it is that takes from thee thy stomach, pleasure and thy golden sleep? Why dost thou bend thine eyes upon the earth, and sit so often when thou sit'st alone?" Vlady brings a sexy confidence to Kate Percy that makes Keith Baxter's diffidence almost a crime against nature.

Only in his late forties when he filmed CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, Welles appears much older, and properly subdued when he has to be. Gone are the accidental grotesqueries that make watching him in OTHELLO or MACBETH sort of wince-making. Falstaff is an adult performance in every sense of the word. The big battle scenes are famous indeed, conveying a devastating impression of the horrors of war, and yet some of its humanity as well, all on what appears to be a twenty-five dollar budget, due to clever use of montage and a rousing musical score. The movie has its lapses, but here's hoping that one of these days the Welles estate will get off its ass and release his late films in restored versions, or indeed, any which way it can. Until then you'll have to take my word for it.
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on December 6, 2007
I obtained at VHS copy of this film back in the early 90s when I was just out of university, and I've seen it maybe two or three times. It's a remarkably outstanding piece of cinematic achievement -- much like his Othello, Welles melds the artform of the 20th century with the immortal bard's words, characters and situations to marvelous effect.

The audio quality of the VHS was difficult at times, and the same is true for this DVD (ironic that Welles' audio on so many films is subpar considering he was a radio star first, where all he had was audio), but it shouldn't get in the way of your enjoyment of the film.

The entire cast turns in fantastic performances and the stark B&W images underscores the emotional nature of this story -- the disposing of one's mentors.

One can't compare the script to anything Shakespeare actually wrote, because it's an amalgam of several pieces of Shakespeare from his "Histories", yet Welles stitches together the appearances of Sir John Falstaff with magical aplomb and gives the story a narrative drive that is more modern, yet still classical in its design and execution.

If any film warrants at Criterion restoration it's this film, however I have to believe the original elements are in the worst condition; still, sinking some money in by the UCLA Film Archive or the BFI for a restoration wouldn't be such a bad thing or a waste of money...
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