by FREDA BRUCE LOCKHART
ORSON WELLES has been a larger-than-life figure in the cinema since we first heard of the broadcast which sparked off a panic in the U.S. about an invasion from Mars. His first big film, "Citizen Kane", marked him out as an original genius, and his career since has been consistently original.
Some of his productions, like "The Magnificent Ambersons", have become classics. Others—"Othello", perhaps, or "Macbeth"—have been flops, though never undistinguished flops. As an actor he commands worldwide admiration. Now his latest attempt at filming Shakespeare seems to me a triumph.
If you are a pedant or a Shakespearean connoisseur (by no means necessarily the same) you may be offended by Chimes at Midnight ("U", Academy, Cinema One) as an untidy patchwork of Shakespeare plays. My own sole objection is to the title for a film which might better have been called Orson WeIles's "Falstaff", composed as it is from the various plays in which Shakespeare's f at knight figures, though principally from the two parts of "Henry IV".
Shakespeareans may wince, but as a movie this seemed to me the most exhilarating—and moving — Shakespeare film since the early great Olivier successes—and except the Russian "Hamlet".
Olivier's last "Othello" was the record of a stage production; his "Henry V" was a great movie. So, to my mind, is Orson Welles's "Chimes at Midnight".
Not that it is comparable pictorially. Welles works in blessed black and white, but his sense of decor, indoors or out; in austere royal castle, squalid inn, battlefield or F.nglish forest (all filmed, I understand, in Spain) and the low "wagon" ceilings recalling what was innovation in "Citizen Kane" also recreate a sense of medieval England.
Welles may surely be forgiven a feeling that he was born to play Falstaff. Not only has he the figure, but also the fruity bass voice, and Jove of good cheer which make him lovable as well as ludicrous. Nor has Welles ever, for all his tendency to egomania, made the star-manager's mistake of surrounding himself with indifferent talents.
The ageing Henry IV here is John Gielgud himself. Some sardonic comedy Joseph Mankiewicz has contrived for Rex Harrison out of Ben Jonson's "Volpone" via a novel by Thomas Sterling and not forgetting a play by Frederick Knott. It is the kind of elaborate contrivance which might understandably tempt a writerproducer-director and a star of the respective eminences of Mankiewicz and Harrison to vary the monotony of fame at the top.
Mr. Harrison plays Cecil Fox, an eccentric English millionaire living in Venice. Apparently bored, he walks out of a dress rehearsal of "Volpone" at the beautiful Fenice theatre and proceeds to try to live out the performance in his palazzo. He hires a young man, William McFly (Cliff Robertson), as a confidential secretary to stage-manage a practical joke and sends for three women from his past to attend the completion of his last will and testament.
The women are a Hollywood star (Edie Adams), an impoverished princess (Capucine) and Fox's first love, Mrs. "Lone Star" Sheridan (Susan Hayward) in her best part for a long time. The entertainment, as in "Volpone", is in the rivalry between the would-be heiresses and the tyrant's playing upon it. In addition, Mrs. Sheridan has brought her nurse (Maggie Smith), who inspires in the local inspector of police (Adolfo Cell) an unholy respect for "the Anglo-Saxon woman".
The whole makes a very elegant entertainment which keeps the audience guessing—for almost the whole two hours and a half—of what is essentially the mutual fascination of decaying Europe and primitive America.
A modern Japanese melodrama of perversion and suicide called simply Passion ("X", Cameo-Victoria), may be less turgid than the same story would be told in the contemporary Anglo Saxon idiom.
Not all the intensity of the leading actress, as a wife whose marriage is wrecked by her passion for another woman, can ward eff the air of the grotesque, summed up in the shot of the soles of three pairs of feet sticking out of bed.