Orson Welles doth foully slaughter Shakespeare in a dialect version of his “Tragedy of Macbeth” — or so sayeth LIFE magazineFriday, June 19th, 2009
Looking back at the trouble Orson Welles had in gaining commercial success for nearly all of his films, I was struck by how just one key review, preview, or threat from a powerful mogul (such as W. R. Hearst), could effectively destroy the commercial chances of a Welles movie.
We know that on Citizen Kane, it was the efforts of the Hearst empire that single-handedly wrecked Citizen Kane's box-office potential. With The Magnificent Ambersons, it was supposedly the "disastrous" preview in Pomona --- except there were actually a good portion of audience members who felt the film was quite brilliant. For Chimes at Midnight, it was the single pan the movie got in The New York Times. And with Macbeth, it was this article that appeared in Life Magazine, the same week the film opened in Boston and a few other American cites.
What's rather unfortunate about this, is that the Life article was the voice of just a single person, and as we know today, their judgment about the Scots accents was wildly off-base. But at the time, the article caused great concerns, although ironically, not so much within the ranks of the Republic executives, as with Welles's own friend and producing partner, Charles K. Feldman.
This is all brought out in the memos Richard Wilson was continually writing to Welles. Wilson specifically notes that Feldman had "memorized" the Life article in these excerpts from a letter he wrote on May 7, 1949:
To: ORSON WELLES
From: RICHARD WILSON
I have had the considerable disillusionment of hearing Charlie (Feldman) request some of the god-damnedest things it's possible to imagine. I've had the odd experience of being supported by (Republic pictures Chairman, Robert) Newman against the suggestions of your good friend and partner, Mr. Feldman.
...To give you a better picture of Charlie, he had so many of his friends talk to him about Macbeth that he now doesn't know what to think. He has memorized the Life article and cannot help but quote it to make a point. In other words, he's now beginning to believe the Life article.
...his suggestions are directly opposed to (the) pitch in your letter that the cure is not to file down the roughness. His sensitivity to costumes, sound, witches, voice etc. are all of a kind: intended to soften and make smooth the production.
...(Herbert J. Yates) has also, I feel, a sincere feeling of loyalty to you and the project which has now become precarious. He's a bit wistful about "the greatest gangster the world has ever known" type of approach (to market the film) ...and the exploitation boys were frustrated by not having got an endorsement. ...they can't get anyone to come out for it.
Orson Welles doth foully slaughter Shakespeare in a dialect version of his "Tragedy of Macbeth"
LIFE magazine - October 11, 1948