Criterion Draws Fresh Restorations From Welles With 'Chimes at Midnight' and 'The Immortal Story'

Jeanne Moreau and Orson Welles in Chimes at Midnight (1965)

In his late period, Orson Welles was just getting started.

Chimes at Midnight

Director: Orson Welles
Cast: Orson Welles, Jeanne Moreau
Distributor: Criterion
Year: 1964
USDVD release date: 2016-08-30

The Immortal Story

Director: Orson Welles
Cast: Orson Welles, Jeanne Moreau
Distributor: Criterion
Year: 1967
USDVD release date: 2016-08-08-30

Criterion has done film buffs a favor (again) with this double shot of hard-to-find Orson Welles films of the ‘60s, both co-starring himself and Jeanne Moreau.

Chimes at Midnight (1965) manufactures a new Shakespeare play by combining scenes from five plays into the story of rollicking scoundrel John Falstaff (Welles) and his carousing friendship with the dissolute Prince Hal (Keith Baxter), the future Henry V. Moreau appears as Falstaff's girlfriend, while Margaret Rutherford is Mistress Quickly. John Gielgud is the stern and disappointed Henry IV. It's a rich, human story, anchored by Shakespeare's language and buoyed by joyous performances. Welles' portrayal of the massive ne'er-do-well climaxes in a great emotional moment that, according to the Welles biographers interviewed in the extras, resonates with his own feelings about his father.

It's never been possible to see or hear this movie in anything resembling the astounding clarity of this digital restoration. For one thing, the post-dubbed soundtrack has never quite been in sync. To those of us who've managed to catch one of the rare video releases of this much-wrangled item, this Blu-ray is a revelation that justifies the hype of those who proclaimed it a masterpiece. Every shot is beautifully composed, often with a whirling, intimate camera that feels inspired by the Russian approach to historical cinema. Most innovatively, Welles uses the off-and-on, catch-as-catch-can shooting style of his late period to discover the wonders of editing. He applies his lessons to a jaw-dropping set piece: one of the first battle scenes in cinema to be brutal, muddy, and barbaric.

James Naremore's commentary is mostly Shakespeare blow-by-blow, while interviews with Simon Callow and Joseph McBride add personal background. Also interviewed are Keith Baxter and Welles' daughter Beatrice, who played the nine-year-old page boy and discusses her fabulous childhood.

Orson Welles in The Immortal Story (1968)

Both Baxter and Norman Eshley, who are interviewed on Criterion's The Immortal Story (1968), report having a temporary father/son kind of relationship with Welles in which they were welcomed into the inner sanctum. Eshley was cast to play the young sailor recruited by a rapacious old capitalist (Welles) to spend the night with his pretend-wife (Moreau) in a delicate tale about make-believe and storytelling spun by Isak Dinesen (aka Karen Blixen) in one of her urbane erudite fables.

That one-hour film was produced for French TV by Moreau's agent, Micheline Rozan. Welles' first film in color, it was shot as a soft-focus tone-poem by young French New Wave photographer Willy Kurant and scored entirely with bits and pieces of Erik Satie's piano music long before scoring with pre-existing classical music became a cliché. It took Welles a year to edit the picture, as Welles scholar Francois Thomas says in an extra. It was shown on French TV with a rather abstract documentary, included here, that features Welles interviews and comments by Moreau. Of most fun is the chatty, informed commentary by scholar Adrian Martin, rescued from a previous DVD.

Two versions of the film are included, because the 50-minute French version runs about seven minutes shorter than the English version. The English version includes more dialogue between the old man and the sailor and more morning-after talk between the sailor and the woman. It includes a few alternate takes and the use of Welles' voice (dubbed by Philippe Noiret in French). An interesting difference is that Welles also narrates the opening of the English version, pausing to allow comments from local men on the street, one of whom is Fernando Rey (the Earl of Worcester in Chimes at Midnight).

The French narrator incorporates the comments from the figures on screen, so we have the neat visual trick of hearing the narrator suddenly match the lips of the men instead of hearing them speak. (The same gag is used in Welles' 1958 TV pilot The Fountain of Youth.) Then Welles' character is introduced in a tableau of reflecting mirrors similar to a famous shot in Citizen Kane (1941), reminding us that the young actor who played that old man is now really that old; it also, of course, reminds us of the multiple Orsons in the climax of The Lady from Shanghai (1947).

Both films are the epitome of elegant, sophisticated, civilized cinema that uses literary sources as a respectful base for visual and aural bravura. In short, this is Art, and we must shake our heads at the sabotaging distribution practices and often clueless critical reception that have conspired to keep people from seeing these films for decades. Well, they're here now. Dare we wonder if The Trial (1962) can be far behind?






'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.