Chimes at Midnight (1965)

15 Aug

At last.

chimes_at_midnightIn 1999 or 2000, I went to the blessed Brattle Theatre for an Orson Welles double feature, the first film of which was to be Chimes at Midnight, his adaptation of both parts of Shakespeare’s Henry IV (with a peppering of other Falstaff here and there).

I saw about three minutes. And the sound went out. Not the theatre’s – the film’s. Nothing to be done. They showed Othello instead. Which is great and all. I had already seen it.

A couple of years later, a girlfriend found it in a video store in Chicago. It was pretty beat up. I was only in town for the weekend. It was late. Through no fault of the movie’s, I fell sound asleep.

Years went by.

chimes 3Generationally speaking, it is almost impossible to make clear how difficult it is for me to remember sometimes that the internet exists. I look for something for years, give up, and while talking about it one day, think, “Wait – look online!” And there it is – Junior Miss on YouTube or I Go Pogo on eBay.

Or Chimes at Midnight new(ish)ly released in an affordable (for me) version that also doesn’t require a region-free player.

So I got it.

Now, no less than Pauline Kael has gone all apey over this movie, so I feel no need to try and surpass her praise for it. But let me go on record as saying it’s mighty good.

chimes at midnight 10 croppedMuch of what’s said about Chimes at Midnight is about the direction, particularly the impressively staged and influential battles, which Welles, with his usual inspiring creativity based at least in part on total lack of funding, carries off like the master he was. But, again, books have been written.

But Welles the actor is perfect here – I’ve seen several Falstaffs and his, for me, most effectively balances the old knight’s vain (and vain) attempts to hide his pathetic streak under a mask of playfulness without lapsing into the actor’s trap of overemphasizing the gravity or levity. So good that I wanted to watch it again immediately to focus purely on this and not all the splendid battles, the terrific performances by the rest of the cast (I particularly enjoyed Margaret Rutherford’s Mistress Quickly and Norman Rodway’s Hotspur), and, you know, the Shakespeare.

Worth every minute I waited.

P.S. – Because of a programming opportunity that it’s too early to talk about, I’ve been thinking about double features lately. Am I insane for wanting to pair this with Auntie Mame for an evening of Questionable Role Models?

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