Chimes at Midnight Aka Falstaff
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Sir John Falstaff (Shakespearian character superbly portrayed by Orson Welles), is the charming although drunken and obese companion of young Henry V. At first Prince Hal and Falstaff lead a life of debauchery and idleness, but as the prince sees the import of his destiny as the future king of England, Falstaff fearfully believes their relationship might be heading for trouble. Welles’ marvelous portrayal of this jovial but tragic character and strong acting throughout make Chimes at Midnight an exceptionally worthwhile film.These DVD's are produced by Nostalgia Family Video and Come in a "No Frillz" set. DVD titles come in clear clamshell packaging with no DVD menu and no individual title artwork.
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Orson Welles several times adapted Shakespeare's "second tetralogy," the later collection of Shakespeare's plays about English history (Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, Henry V) as a single production. He put earlier versions of this work on the stage in the 1930s and the 1950s. "Chimes at Midnight" (1965) is Welles's final attempt to boil down Shakespeare's meditation on kingship, English history, friendship, power, and the relations between fathers and sons into a single work--and it is a masterpiece of film.
Welles made the movie on a shoestring budget, and he spent all the money he had (and didn't have) on assembling a great cast, which includes Sir John Gielgud (a haunted and chilly King Henry), Dame Margaret Rutherford (Mistress Quickly), Norman Rodway (a wonderfully impulsive and sympathetic Hotspur) Jeanne Moreau (Doll Tearsheet), Keith Baxter (Prince Hal) and himself as Falstaff. It is not a technically perfect film: there are some post-production problems, many voices only approximately synchronizing with lip movement, some clumsy edits, and so on. But this is not an exercise in technical-polish-plus-vacuous-content (think the last comicbook-based action film you saw). This is a profound and beautiful interpretation of Shakespeare's historical vision.
I've taught the plays (and used the film) many times over many years. All I can say is that I wish I had had this version at the time. Many voices and whole scenes are clearer on the soundtrack, and many images are clearer on the screen. Welles's original aspect-ratio has been preserved. The film is more moving and powerful than I have ever seen it.
At the very end, in a passage from Henry V, before Falstaff's coffin is painfully wheeled out of the innyard, the silly Mistress Quickly denies that he is in hell, "Nay, he's in Arthur's bosom, if ever man went to Arthur's bosom," thus using her habitual malapropisms to discover a transcendent truth. As with everything else, the Criterion blu-ray version does not "colorize" or falsify this moment, but it clarifies it, and so the scene carries the power Welles wanted it to carry. We cannot ask for more. This is a magnificent film in a faithfully rendered version.
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.
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history plays and just got to this Welles treatment of the Falstaff story which we...Read more