The shortest and bloodiest of Shakespeare’s plays got the Hollywood treatment a number of times over the years, but Macbeth never so closely resembled a horror film as it does in this 1948 production. Welles, wild-eyed and brooding, is brilliant as the nobleman told by three witches that he is destined — or perhaps doomed — to become king.
The film’s low budget is obvious but Welles works around his financial limitations cleverly; the expressionist sets and arch camera angles are unsettling (it’s never entirely clear at any point whether we’re indoors or outdoors), and all the walls we see are of barren stone that might be within an ancient castle or out against a looming cliff wall. The eerie sound design and nightmarish visuals evoke the barren, empty world that Macbeth has created for himself.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that an arty, surreal experiment like this would crash and burn at the box offices of 1948. But the film’s reputation has grown over the years, and it’s regarded today as one of the best screen versions of any Shakespeare play.
Jeanette Nolan had played Lady Macbeth on the stage countless times, and Welles has some of his old Mercury players on hand for this one, including Erskine Sanford and William Alland. — Michael Popham
MACBETH screens at the Trylon on Monday and Tuesday, May 25 and 26 at 7:00 and 9:00. Advance tickets are available, and you can purchase them here.