Chimes At Midnight - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

(Campanadas a medianoche)

Spain, 1966

Director: Orson Welles

Production: Internacional Films Española and Alpine Productions, presented by Harry Saltzman; black and white, 35mm; running time:

Chimes at Midnight
Chimes at Midnight
119 minutes, English version 115 minutes. Released May 1966. Filmed in Barcelona, Madrid, and other Spanish locations.

Producers: Emiliano Piedra and Angel Escolano; executive producer: Alessandro Tasca; screenplay: Orson Welles, from Henry IV, Parts I and II, Henry V, Richard III, The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare and the Chronicles of England by Raphael Holinshed; photography: Edmond Richard; editor: Fritz Muller; sound recordist: Peter Parasheles; art directors: José Antonio de la Guerra and Mariano Erdorza; music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino; conductor: Pierluigi Urbini; music director: Carlo Franci; costume designer: Orson Welles.

Cast: Orson Welles ( Sir John Falstaff ); Jeanne Moreau ( Doll Tearsheet ); Margaret Rutherford ( Hostess Quickly ); John Gielgud ( King Henry IV ); Keith Baxter ( Prince Hal, later King Henry V ); Marina Vlady ( Kate Percy ); Norman Rodway ( Henry Percy, called Hotspur ); Alan Webb ( Justice Shallow ); Walter Chiari ( Mr. Silence ); Michael Aldridge ( Pistol ); Tony Beckley ( Poins ); Fernando Rey ( Worcester ); Beatrice Welles ( Falstaff's Page ); Andrew Faulds ( Westmoreland ); José Nieto ( Northumberland ); Jeremy Rowe ( Prince John ); Paddy Bedford ( Bardolph ); Ralph Richardson ( Narrator ); Julio Peña; Fernando Hilbeck; Andrés Meguto; Keith Pyott; Charles Farrell.



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Beja, Morris, Perspective on Orson Welles , New York, 1995.


Billard, Pierre, in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1965.

Cobos, Juan, and Miguel Rubio, "A Trip to Don Quixoteland," in Cahiers du Cinéma in English (New York), no. 5, 1966.

Cobos, Juan, and Miguel Rubio, "Welles and Falstaff," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1966.

Morgenstern, J., and R. Sokolov, "Falstaff as Orson Welles," in Newsweek (New York), 27 March 1967.

Sarris, Andrew, in Village Voice (New York), 30 March 1967.

Gow, Gordon, in Films and Filming (London), May 1967.

Price, James, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1967.

Cobos, Juan, and Miguel Rubio, "Welles on Falstaff ," in Cahiers du Cinéma in English (New York), September 1967.

McBride, Joseph, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1969.

Henderson, Brian, "The Long Take," in Film Comment (New York), Summer 1971.

Bordwell, David, in Film Comment (New York), Summer 1971.

Rubin, Stanley, S., "Welles/Falstaff/Shakespeare/Welles: The Narrative Structure of Chimes at Midnight ," in Film Criticism (Edinboro, Pennsylvania), Winter-Spring 1978.

Poague, Leland, "Reading the Prince: Shakespeare, Welles, and Some Aspects of Chimes at Midnight ," in Iowa State Journal of Research , August 1981.

McLean, A. M., "Orson Welles and Shakespeare: History and Consciousness in Chimes at Midnight ," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), July 1983.

Chevrie, M., interview with Edmond Richard, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1985.

Anderegg, Michael, "Every Third Word a Lie: Rhetoric and History in Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight ," in Film Quarterly (Berke-ley), Spring 1987.

Baxter, K., "Filming Falstaff ," in Positif (Paris), July-August 1992.

Berthome, J.-P., and F. Thomas, "Sept annees en noir et blanc," in Positif (Paris), July-August 1992.

Saada, Nicolas, and Joël Magny, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), October 1995.

"Falstaff," in Télérama (Paris), 27 September 1995.

* * *

Among film scholars Citizen Kane is often regarded as the greatest film of all time; among Welles scholars, by contrast, Chimes at Midnight is often accorded pride of place as "the fullest, most completely realized expression of everything [Welles] had been working toward since Citizen Kane ." Partly such praise can be understood as admiration for the fact that Welles managed to make the film at all, coming, as it did, late in a career long plagued by financial and commercial difficulties. And certainly auteurist film critics are prone to praise films generally discounted by journalistic reviewers and contemporary audiences, as Chimes at Midnight was discounted if not derided at the time of its initial (somewhat haphazard, if not half-hearted) release. The evaluative paradox cannot be readily settled, nor need it be; but the comparison to Citizen Kane can be helpful in highlighting those aspects of Chimes at Midnight which urge attention.

The central paradox of the Wellesian cinema involves a conflict between energy and dissipation or constraint; Charles Foster Kane, for instance, is shown as a youth of boundless imagination, but that imaginative energy is evidenced in a narrative which begins with Kane's own death and which portrays his overall inability to put that energy to real use. In Chimes at Midnight there is a similar contrast of youth and age—though the contrast involves two different characters drawn from Shakespeare's Lancaster plays, Falstaff, played by Welles himself, and Prince Hal, played by Keith Baxter. Furthermore, the terms of the contrast are reversed; all in all it is Falstaff who labors to be (or seem) young, while it is Hal who most clearly appreciates the fact that his aging father (John Gielgud) will soon die, and, thus, Hal himself will soon be England's king.

In both films the energy expended in the doomed effort to outwit the facts of time finds its presentational equivalent in the remarkable wit and energy of Welles's film style. It is generally accepted that film style is more muted in Chimes at Midnight than in Citizen Kane ; style does not carry the burden of mystery in the later film that it does in the earlier one. But the energy and intelligence remain evident in Chimes at Midnight nevertheless—not only in the justly famous Shrewsbury battle sequence (often likened, in Welles's favor, to that in Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky ), but also in the use Welles makes of moving camera (in the Gadshill robbery scene), of interior space (the Windsor castle sequences, as well as those at the Boar's Head tavern), and of camera angle (especially in the tavern scene where Hal plays King Henry to Falstaff's Prince). Especially moving and appropriate in this regard is the film's last shot, the intelligence of which (the camera craning slowly up to frame Falstaff's coffin against the castle in the deep background of the frame) serves to memorialize the energy lost at Falstaff's passing. Welles has long been noted for his use of such "deep focus" sequence shots—but the "depth" connoted by this shot, as by the whole of Chimes at Midnight , is equally as much emotional as technical.

—Leland Poague

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