Chimes At Midnight (1965 – DVD)

“I know thee not, old man, fall to thy prayers… how ill white hairs become a fool and jester”

It’s been a long while since I started my mission to view all of Orson Welles feature films, after watching half of them I ran out of the more easily available DVDs but now I’ve finally acquired them all. So over the coming days and weeks I’ll be giving you my thoughts on 1952’s ‘Othello’, 1955’s ‘Mr. Arkadin’ and 1962’s ‘The Trial’. I already owned Orson’s 1965 Shakespeare adaptation ‘Chimes At Midnight’ aka ‘Falstaff’ on a DVD from Cornerstone Media but the image and sound quality were so bad that I decided to not even watch it, lest my first impression of this renowned masterpiece be mired. But the other day I saw the new DVD from Mr Bongo and thought I’d give it a punt. So back at home I pressed play while uttering a few prayers to the gods of cinema under my breath and was relieved to be greeted by this beautifully restored presentation.

‘Chimes At Midnight’ was Welles’ own personal favourite and although he died a full twenty years after it was released, it would sadly be his last completed full length narrative film. The script was based on a stage production that Welles had mounted in 1939 focusing on the story of Sir John Falstaff, the peripheral roguish character from a number of Shakespeare’s history plays. Welles himself plays the rotund Falstaff with all the growling, drunken corruption that he brought to his portrayal of Captain Quinlan in 1958’s ‘Touch Of Evil’ although Sir John is an entirely loveable, lecherous and boisterous character (Unlike the wicked Quinlan). Keith Baxter plays the young Prince Hal with a wonderfully cheeky air but also displays a mercilessly regal power as he gains the throne at the end. The coronation scene between a towering Baxter and a weeping Welles is one of the most powerful of all his films. The great Sir John Gielgud plays Henry IV and bestrides the screen like the seasoned RSC peacock he is, delivering several passionate monologues.

The composition of Welles’ shot are as immaculate as ever, ranging from intimate closeups capturing every nuance of his actors performance to huge scenes at the palace drenched in ominous shadow and angelic shafts of sunlight. The groundbreaking battle scene employs bewildering fast cuts and documentary camera techniques to convey the mud splattered confusion and animal savagery of medieval warfare, clearly inspiring films like Steven Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and Ridley Scott’s ‘Gladiator’. I implore you to go get a copy of Mr Bongo’s release of ‘Chimes At Midnight’ and I urge the authorities to destroy all other available editions. Welles said of ‘Chimes At Midnight’, “If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of one movie, that’s the one I’d offer up”.

Here is an image of the Mr Bongo DVD… be warned, avoid all other editions!:

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