A few years ago, I was sitting in a diner waiting for a few friends to arrive and overheard two guys in the booth behind me debating whether or not Orson Welles was a good filmmaker. Wait, what? My ears perked up as one of the guys noted that he thought the only film he ever saw from the director was one he felt was overrated (and nope, it wasn’t Citizen Kane). He was talking about Chimes After Midnight.
It turned out both were film students who had a teacher who wasn’t a fan of the director, had shown the film in his class, and yep, both were new to Welles’ work while also in that uncomfortable place in one’s youth where one questions too much without searching for the proper answers. Eh, I think they were entitled to their opinions, but I’d loved to have sat down with them and made a few points on some of the man’s work they were clearly missing thanks to their biased instructor’s babbling and their lack of seeing more of his output.
The discovery a few years back of a fantastic quality print plus a few other things falling into place means we now have a superb high quality home video version of Orson Welles’ 1965 masterpiece Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight) which just so happens to be one of the better (and looser) adaptations of Shakespeare put on film. Even if you’re not into The Bard’s work, seeing a cinematic genius like Welles pull this off on a low budget while also creating one of the most effective and chaotic battle sequences set to film makes this a must-see movie. Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Margaret Rutherford, John Gielgud, Kieth Baxter and the rest of the cast all give perfect performances, the editing manages to make the year plus it took to put this together even more brilliant and overall, it’s a great film that’s influenced quite a few others that ended up becoming modern (and better remembered) classics.
Let’s cut to the chase, though. While the film and performances are great here, it’s the famous battle sequence that’s both brilliantly shot and edited, with Welles even getting in some humor at his character’s expense (him or a double running about in that oversized armor is quite a hoot):
(Thanks, Mike Holland!)
I went with the full sequence leading to the battle for context and to show off the acting here, along with what seems to be Welles’ sense of getting things as accurate as possible. I’d always guess medieval era knights needed some assistance in horsing for battles, so this looked like one potential way. That said, I’m guessing the occasional bent swords seen is the edit never happened (unless someone got a rubber sword as a gag, or REALLY inferior ones that buckled under a few hits). The editing here is brilliant despite a few hitches and shows Welles doing a lot with a low budget, a ton of smudge pots for fog, and plenty of close-in shots. he also made a small amount of extras look like a few hundred in all that fake fog and smoke and shooting, which must have been tedious and hellish for the cast.
For me, the other great thing about the film is it also makes the Shakespeare accessible if you’re willing to look up a few things. It’s also amusing in that I’m 1000% sure today we generally have the idea people all talked in the way he wrote, which is an amusing thing when you study any language for a decent enough period of time. But that’s neither here nor there, as they say. This one’s enjoyable and pretty superb stuff it you haven’t seen it yet. Well, you have what, 17 or so minutes with the trailer and all, so that should intrigue you somewhat, right?