Saturday, December 12, 2009

Orson Welles does Falstaff on the Dean Martin Show

There is something really poignant about Orson doing Sir John. Welles's personality was far too larger than life to inhabit roles like a true actor. No matter who he was onstage, he was Orson Welles first and foremost and his roles interpreted him far more than he interpreted them.

Chimes at Midnight is a brilliant but extremely uneven movie. A film with two centers of gravity. On the one hand is John Gielgud's immaculately plush-toned Shakespearean tenor. In front of Gielgud's dutiful machinations, Welles's camera freezes up. Gielgud's greatness was far better captured when he did Cassius in the Hollywood Julius Caesar. But then Welles comes onto the screen, and he treats Shakespeare like a second bear raiding his cave. Falstaff is no longer the great foil to the straight play, but the focus upon which all Shakespearean history takes a back seat. Welles simply inhabits the movie with his charisma and all the mournful wit with which Sir John is freighted. It is as though Welles is confiding to us that he is not not playing at Falstaff, he is Falstaff.

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