Anyway, enough about fishes. Today I watched Chimes at Midnight, directed by Orson Welles in 1965. This film is really hard to find - Ebert points to a version that is from Brazil but will play on US players. I ended up just buying something on Amazon's marketplace, which pretty much just seemed like it was homemade, but it played, and I saw my film, so all is well. I never heard anything about this film before, but it was actually really good. Welles was great - one of my favorite performances I've seen, really. His direction was awesome as well, and he showed how he was great at everything from indoor shots to creating epic battle scenes.
The film has sort of an odd plot - "Sir John Falstaff is the hero in this compilation of extracts from Shakespeare's 'Henry IV' and other plays, made into a connected story of Falstaff's career as young Prince Hal's drinking companion. The massive knight roisters with and without the prince, philosophizes comically, goes to war (in his own fashion), and meets his final disappointment, set in a real-looking late-medieval England," (from IMDB). I wanted to use a summary I didn't write because Falstaff is new to me. I know, worst English major ever. I never read any Shakespeare plays that this character was in, so the idea of a film that's sort of a conglomerate of plays was a little confusing to me. It doesn't affect the film at all, though.
Welles is so awesome in this. He just...is this character. His voice, his strange sense of humor, his real-life debts that mimic the characters, and even similar life experience are perfect for this role. I mean, he looks the part too, but he really just gave this performance his all. I felt like he really loved this character, and that the whole project was dear to his heart. He just seemed so into it, and it was really fun to watch him. I didn't know anything about this character, but I really liked him, and now I want to read some of the plays that he appears in.
Because the film is directed by Welles, the cinematography is awesome. He uses a lot of shots that we see in Citizen Kane, like showing ceilings, which makes some scenes in this film a little claustrophobic. Ebert writes a lot about the battle scene in the forest, but it's so cool - I don't blame him. Ebert talks about how Welles didn't have too many extras for the scene, but somehow created the illusion of having many more. I can't even imagine how he did this, thinking back on the long, 10 minute battle. Aside from the technical side of it, it's just a cool looking scene. I loved when it first started and you could see glimpses of people as they raced through the trees. I never knew Welles could direct that sort of action.
I wish this film was actually restored and available. It was awesome, but it was hard to not get distracted by some parts of it. Sometimes the sound wasn't synced right, and my copy looked pretty meh and had a lot of dirt and filths Overall, I'm glad that I was able to see it. It really increased my respect for Welles, since it just re-enforced the fact that he was an awesome director and actor. I've always loved his movies, but this one was really cool. Falstaff was such an over the top character, and he was perfect for Welles to play. I wish I could say everyone should check this out, but that's probably easier said than done. Maybe someday this will be remastered and actually become available. I hope so, at least. It's weird that Welles is such a famous and loved director/actor, but one of his best films isn't available.
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Chimes at Midnight
Buy it on Amazon