The crowning achievement of Orson Welles’s extraordinary cinematic career, Chimes at Midnight was the culmination of the filmmaker’s lifelong obsession with Shakespeare’s ultimate rapscallion, Sir John Falstaff, a robustly funny and ultimately tragic screen antihero played by Welles himself.
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This is a true masterpiece from Orson Welles who did more with Shakespeare then anyone else and he is absolutely brilliant as Falstaff. As a matter of fact everyone is brilliant in this film. Truly an underrated classic.
Luckily I am familiar with the history at play, because I would challenge anyone who claims they understand more than fifty percent of the dialogue. Welles' bulbous on-screen presence is enormous, but I was often straining to decipher his bumbling groans disguised as language. The black and white compositions are incredible, and scenes like the famous Battle of Shrewsbury really come to life in the new restoration.
Welles' has his revenge and fulfills the promise of The Magnificent Ambersons. His larger-than-life yet grounded style, with its melancholic sensitivity, fits the material so well, you'd swear Shakespeare himself directed this. Its characters are dreamers who latch on to the romanticism of life, despite how much the world tells them to wake up. It's loyalty, joy, memories, people against pride, power, honor.
A full out feast of brilliance -- the occasional misstep here and there doesn't take away from the overall splendor. Welles delivers up all the bawdy humor and high eloquence and one of the great battle scenes in cinema, and if your eyes are dry during Margaret Rutherford's final speech you're just of no use to me at all....
Boring as most Welles are, tecnically top-notch - as most Welles are - sometimes one sleeps, sometimes one laughs so hard one's sides split, the battle was awesome. I was taught how to do to a lot with few, still this is welles, how can one post-post modernistic film student match this? Can't.
Gigantic and baroque like a wellesian film has to be, this picture does not have the perfection of "Citizen Kane" or "Touch of Evil". In the meanwhile, the beauty of several scenes and the fascination of the main character (Falstaff - a loser, this time) are as enjoyable as what I have seen in the foremost Welles' movies.
Welles as a filmmaker remained something of an amateur on an adventure. In the very best sense. He would barely corral resources and go out and make something that he would sort of have to figure out as he went along. Chimes takes a lot of stabs at different things. It is a real mishmash. And there are unquestionably some longueurs. But it would seem unfathomable to deny that this is Orson's finest performance.
A ramshackle triumph. It works because it embraces the boozy, whoring, and fundamentally anti-establishment spirit of Shakespeare, emphasises these elements, and makes a film commensurate in style with the playright's genius. And it was Welles's favourite of his own films.
As Welles said, Falstaff represents "the old England, dying and betrayed". (I'd add that only one part died, and it was indeed the best part.)