Othello | Chicago Reader

Othello

The original version of Orson Welles's landmark 1952 independent feature—not the so-called restoration released in 1992, but the film as it originally looked and sounded, courtesy of a 16-millimeter print owned by cinematographer Gary Graver, one of Welles's key collaborators during the last phase of his career. For all the liberties taken with the play, this may well be the greatest Shakespeare film (Welles's later Chimes at Midnight is the only other contender)—a brooding expressionist dream of the play made in eerie Moorish locations in Morocco and Italy over nearly three years, yet held together by a remarkably cohesive style and atmosphere (and beautifully shot by Anchisi Brizzi, G.R. Aldo, and George Fanto). Welles, despite his misleading reputation in the U.S. as a Hollywood filmmaker, made about 75 percent of his films as a fly-by-night independent in order to regain the artistic control he'd had on Citizen Kane; Othello, the first of these features, is arguably an even more important film in his career than Kane, since it inaugurated the more fragmented shooting style that dominates his subsequent work. The most impressive performance here is that of Micheal MacLiammoir as Iago; Welles's own underplaying of the title role meshes well with the somnambulistic mood, but apart from some magnificent line readings makes less of a dramatic impression. With Suzanne Cloutier (as Desdemona), Robert Coote, Fay Compton, Doris Dowling, and Michael Laurence.

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