In honor of Jeanne Moreau’s passing, this week Kyle and Ben sit down to discuss one of Orson Welles’ crowing achievements, Chimes at Midnight (Fallstaff). Having been released in Spain in December 1965, in France in May 1966, and in the United States in March of 1967, it was initially a critical failure and it did not achieve the box office success that Welles had sought. Over time, critical reappraisal has lauded the film as one of Welles’ finest works.
BEN: I have to be honest, I’m not big on Shakespeare. I read him when I was in school and he confounded me and my imagination. I sincerely enjoyed Welles’ Chimes at Midnight. I knew Shakespeare’s works were replete with intimate locations and rich characters, but I did not realize how sharp the tongues were.
KYLE: I’ve been revisiting all of Welles’ works recently and I was blown away by this one. I think it is Welles’ finest performance and an honest masterpiece. I absolutely adore the tonal shifts and the somber portrayal of Shakespeare’s legendary hedonist.
BEN: Welles layers his story of a rebellious father, King Henry IV and a rebellious son, Prince Hal who is at the behest of a literal father figure, Sir John Falstaff. The majority of the film is spent within the confines of the Boar’s Head Tavern carrying on the intimacy of a stage play, allowing our characters to develop their identities. Hal, played by Keith Baxter is the roguish playboy, a philanderer without a care in the world. He is encouraged by Falstaff to enjoy the spoils of life, without the responsibilities, nurturing his rebellious nature as well as his growing desire for power. There was a point in the film where Hal nearly became a Robin Hood, but he started to see that his ways were not germane to his status as a future king. Returning to his father’s side, he fought the noble Henry Percy, played by Norman Rodway in a stunning battle set piece. I was surprised at the level of gruesomeness displayed; it served as a striking counterpoint to the jubilant celebrations that mark the earlier parts of the film. Edmond Richard’s cinematography is simply gorgeous, from the placement of the camera, to the tracking shots to the use of light. His outdoor work, especially during the battle sequence is something for the history books.
KYLE: I think the swing in tone is the best part of the film because it focuses on the point that Welles was making. All good things come to an end, and while Hal’s journey from miscreant to monarch is a perfect example, I think the deeper meaning involves the trauma of responsibility and the death of innocence when adulthood, and all of its dangerous and wondrous revelations arrive. This is highlighted during the battle scene that you mention. I really enjoy the framing as well, particularly in the scenes at the inn because position is almost as important as dialogue, and of course the parody of the king scene is not only iconic, it is a wonderful summation of what is in store for the viewer.
BEN: Of course, we wouldn’t be discussing this film if not to celebrate the life of Jeanne Moreau, who I confess to not having seen much of her work. Here she plays Doll Tearsheet, a prostitute at the Boar’s Head. She is as sensual as she is vociferous. I liken her performance to being a chameleon, blending into the background in the beginning, falling for Falstaff’s charms. Then, as events heat up, she raises her voice in protest.
KYLE: Pure icon. My first film of hers was Jules and Jim and I was not only blown away by her free spirited and tragic performance, but I instantly respected her nuanced presence, something that I continue to enjoy each time I view one of her films. From Jules and Jim, La Notte, and my favorite Diary of a Chambermaid, Moreau has left a legacy behind. It is truly a thing of greatness to witness her layered performances, harnessing a variety of complex emotions and combining them into unforgettable characters…because they are so human, the viewer can’t help but to identify. That was her talent. She is incomparable and one of the truly great actresses of all time.
BEN: I really enjoyed watching this film. It’s amazing to learn that this film released over a three-year period. Can you imagine something like that happening now?
KYLE: It still happens, with films debuting at festivals across the world and then not making it into the theater or on demand in different countries for several years, but technology has, for better or worse, changed distribution procedures across the world.
BEN: I’ve already found a certain affection for Welles’ works over the years and this is something that I will be revisiting again, especially with Criterion’s fine Blu-ray. I will also be exploring more of Jeanne Moreau’s works in the future. Something tells me I’m in for a treat. Although this was a French-Spanish release, none other than Mr. Harry Saltzman was involved in its production.
KYLE: Touch of Evil is my favorite Welles’ film, despite the undeniable importance of Citizen Kane. I recently viewed The Lady from Shanghai after learning about its history from the You Must Remember This podcast. It is a very strange, yet fascinating film and I recommend that you start there on your journey through Welles’ legendary portfolio.
Ben: Thank you for sitting down with me again this week, Kyle. I know we were originally going to do a quick review of Umbrellas of Cherbourg this week, but we decided to hold that for now to do something a bit more special with it. Later this week, we’ll be back with something timed for the upcoming Logan Lucky release.
KYLE: Looking forward to it!