'Chimes At Midnight' Gives Weight To A Shakespearean Knave For our "Ones That Got Away" series, NPR film critic Bob Mondello checks out Chimes at Midnight, an Orson Welles masterpiece that hasn't been available in the U.S. for decades.
NPR logo

'Chimes At Midnight' Gives Weight To A Shakespearean Knave

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/461377151/461409367" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Chimes At Midnight' Gives Weight To A Shakespearean Knave

Review

Movie Reviews

'Chimes At Midnight' Gives Weight To A Shakespearean Knave

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/461377151/461409367" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The one that got away usually means something that's gone for good. Director Orson Welles made a masterpiece that got away for decades, but NPR's Bob Mondello says the movie "Chimes At Midnight" is about to resurface.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Nineteen sixty-five. It'd been seven years since Orson Welles directed "Touch Of Evil," more than 20 years since "Citizen Kane." So a lot of people thought he was washed up when he shopped around a project he'd created by blending bits and pieces of five plays by Shakespeare.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT")

ALAN WEBB: (As Shallow) Jesus, the days that we have seen.

ORSON WELLES: (As Falstaff) We have heard the chimes at midnight.

MONDELLO: It was an epic that centered on Falstaff, a fat scalawag Welles had wanted to play for ages. He now looked the part, having put on quite a bit of weight, and the character's fondness for deception suited him too, especially when it came to dealing with producers.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT")

WELLES: (As Falstaff) Four rogues in buckram cloaks. Let drive at me.

KEITH BAXTER: (As Prince Hal) Four? Four? Thou saidst but two even now.

WELLES: (As Falstaff) Four Hal, I told thee four.

MONDELLO: Welles lied to a producer, saying yes, he'd direct "Treasure Island" for him, as long as he could make his Falstaff project at the same time.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT")

WELLES: (As Falstaff) Seven of the 11 I paid.

BAXTER: (As Prince Hal) O, monstrous. Eleven buckram men grown out of two.

WELLES: (As Falstaff) But as the devil would have it...

MONDELLO: Talking his way around every roadblock, Welles built sets that could theoretically work for both "Chimes" and "Treasure Island," hired actors who could play in both films, but never wrote a single scene about pirates. He just pushed ahead on "Chimes At Midnight" using majestic Spanish castles as backdrops for English battles of succession, John Gielgud as a King Henry who he wishes he had another man's son...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT")

JOHN GIELGUD: (As Henry IV) By my scepter and my soul to boot, he hath more worthy interest to the state than thou.

WELLES: (As Falstaff) Do not think so.

MONDELLO: Keith Baxter was his Prince Hal.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT")

BAXTER: (As Prince Hal) I will redeem all this on Percy's head, and in the closing of some glorious day, be bold to tell you that I am your son.

MONDELLO: And when they went to war, Welles turned 180 extras on horseback into an army of thousands. This sequence would later inspire battle scenes from "Braveheart" to "Saving Private Ryan." It's regarded today as an antiwar statement on a par with "Dr. Strangelove."

Still, "Chimes" didn't ring many times in its own time. Its initial reviews were mixed, its American rollout limited and rights disputes kept the film from being issued on DVD. Happily, critics have rallied to it in recent years.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT")

WELLES: (As Falstaff) I forgive thee.

MONDELLO: The New York Times called it maybe the greatest Shakespearean film ever made, an opinion that Welles, who, like Falstaff, was never shy about his own genius...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT")

WELLES: (As Falstaff) Thou knowest I am as valiant as Hercules.

MONDELLO: ...Would likely have shared. So it's good that rights disputes have been resolved, meaning a freshly restored "Chimes At Midnight" will shortly be available on DVD and in limited theatrical release, sprawling and hugely ambitious and containing a glorious Wellesian Falstaff as majestic in folly as he is in girth. I'm Bob Mondello.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.