review for Macbeth on AllMovie

Macbeth (1948)
by Michael Costello review

The first of Welles' Shakespeare adaptations has been so heavily cut that it's basically a vigorous sketch of the play, albeit one of sustained visual invention. While one might at first be put off by the evident limitations of the film's shoestring budget, such as Macbeth's seemingly papier-mâché crown, Welles puts one under his spell with noirishishly dark compositions, brisk editing, and characteristically relentless tracking shots. Echoing his historic 1936 stage voodoo Macbeth, the director conjures a primitive and barbaric world whose fetish objects, impaled heads, and cave-like settings are opposed by the Chistianity of Welles' invented Holy Father. This Macbeth is one driven less by his wife's ambition than his own megalomania, a familiar attribute of the director's protagonists, but Welles' acting is uneven, at best. The same could be said for the rest of the cast, particularly Jeanette Nolan, whose unique Lady Macbeth is either an exhibition of rank scenery-chewing or a performance of intriguingly Kabuki-like stylization. Yet, with all its flaws, the film has a powerful momentum, and if not the definitive film version of the play, as a record of Welles' incomparable eye, it's a fascinating artifact.