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The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice
Orson Welles' Othello (1951)
  • Director:
    Orson Welles
  • Category:
  • Writer:
    William Shakespeare
  • Cast:
    Orson Welles,Micheál MacLiammóir,Robert Coote
  • Time:
    1h 30min
  • Year:
Desdemona, daughter of a Venetian aristocrat, elopes with Moorish military hero Othello, to the great resentment of Othello's envious underling Iago. Alas, Iago knows Othello's weakness, and with chilling malice works on him with but too good effect.
Complete credited cast:
Micheál MacLiammóir Micheál MacLiammóir - Iago
Robert Coote Robert Coote - Roderigo
Orson Welles Orson Welles - Othello
Suzanne Cloutier Suzanne Cloutier - Desdemona
Hilton Edwards Hilton Edwards - Brabantio
Nicholas Bruce Nicholas Bruce - Lodovico
Michael Laurence Michael Laurence - Cassio
Fay Compton Fay Compton - Emilia
Doris Dowling Doris Dowling - Bianca

Orson Welles' Othello (1951)

To pay the bills on this film, which took three years to make, Orson Welles took supporting roles in several films, one of which was Svarta rosen (1950). During the filming of this, he greatly annoyed director Henry Hathaway by borrowing various costumes and cameras for use on "Othello". Hathaway complained to his boss Darryl F. Zanuck about this, but the latter, a friend of Welles', just laughed it off. Hathaway was still complaining in interviews in the 1970s.

The movie was shot over three years and production was stopped twice, mainly because Welles ran out of money. He then starred in the films Den tredje mannen (1949) and Skälmarnas furste (1949). He took his payment from those films and used them as money for "Othello".

When he made Svarta rosen (1950), Orson Welles insisted that the coat his character wore be lined with mink, even though the lining would never be visible in the finished film. The producers acquiesced to this demand. When the shoot was over, the coat disappeared. In "Othello", Orson Welles can be seen wearing the same coat, complete with mink lining.

Roderigo's murder in a Turkish bath was devised in that manner because the costumes had been impounded due to non-payment.

Orson Welles' daughter, Beatrice Welles, spent over $1 million on a restoration of the film in 1992. This included enhancing picture quality, re-syncing the audio, adding extra sound effects and re-recording the score in stereo. However, many critics felt that the restoration was ill-advised as it seemed to be based on a re-edit and not the original print that was screened to great acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival in 1952. This, the 1952 version and the 1955 cut for the American market all remain out of print now, due to legal actions brought about by Beatrice Welles.

Orson Welles provides the voice for much of Roderigo's dialogue.

The original 1952 print that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and won the Palme d'Or now resides in the Paris Cinematheque.

According to Welles scholar Jonathon Rosenbaum, not until the final stages of production did the film's producers know that Welles had made two separate versions of the film, one for America and another for Europe (which is the one that premiered at Cannes in 1952.) The restored "Othello" ignored the European elements. In the European version the credits are spoken by Welles, and there is no narration.

When the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1952, it did so under the Moroccan flag as Orson Welles was unable to obtain American distribution. He would have to wait another 3 years before that became a possibility.

Suzanne Cloutier, who plays Desdemona, was actually the third actress to play the part during the lengthy shoot. One of the others was Cécile Aubry, who left the shoot when she was offered Svarta rosen (1950), only to bump into Orson Welles on that set once more.

Orson Welles was able to trim the play's usual running time of 3 hours down to a more manageable 90 minutes.

Welles had another actress, Gudrun Ure, dub all dialogue of Suzanne Cloutier. Ure had previously played the part of Desdemona opposite Orson Welles' Othello on stage.

Micheál MacLiammóir (Iago) and Hilton Edwards (Brabantio) were lovers in real life.

Micheál MacLiammóir and his partner Hilton Edwards founded Dublin's Gate Theatre in 1928. That same year Mac Liammoir served as the first artistic director and Edwards the first technical director of the Taibhdhearc Theatre, Ireland's national Irish-language theatre, in Galway City. Both theatres are still in operation, adding much to the cultural life of their country. Welles acted in the Gate's company early in his career.

The lengthy shoot is chronicled in-depth in Micheál MacLiammóir's book "Put Money in Thy Purse".

The only feature film of famed Dublin actor Micheál MacLiammóir.

Suzanne Cloutier was a late replacement for Lea Padovani and Micheál MacLiammóir was a late replacement for Everett Sloane.

Welles had the idea for the round opening in the ceiling of Othello's bedroom after seeing the oculus in the Camera degli Sposi painted by Mantegna in the Ducal Palace in Mantua, showing cherubs looking down from a circular balcony.

There is a shot of one character striking another in the face that took two years to shoot the reaction shot for because Orson Welles was off filming other projects. .

I will not go into the film as many already have said how it is a great work of art despite its "troubled" filming history.

This film is now advertised and available as a "restored" dvd of a "lost" Welles film. But DO NOT be deceived. Whereas the 1998 cut of Touch of Evil was "restored" using a Welles memo as guidelines, Othello was restored by presuming many things. First, dialogue was put in sync and unintelligible diaglogue was "voiced over." And second, the original score was redone, but not exactly as the original. You could almost say a new score was used in the "restored" film. The original cut was Welles' 1952 European version which has only ever been availible as a (OOP) 1995 Criterion LaserDisc. As Welles' daughter owns the rights to Othello, that's the 1992 "restored" version which she also helped on, it is the only one currently availible for purchase in the US (as she receives no money for the 1995 CR laserdisc, she forced Criterion to stop making it.)

While many casual fans will not notice or care about the little changes, don't be deceived into thinking this is "Orson's intended version." Also DO NOT be deceived into thinking this is a lost film. It was only lost in the sense that it had no distribution until the early 90's.
Impala Frozen
Impala Frozen
Considerable controversy has surrounded the 1992 restoration and re-release of Orson Welles' "Othello." First, the film was wrongly labelled a "lost classic" - not technically true, as Welles aficionados will realize. More seriously, the restoration crew (under the aegis of Welles' daughter, Beatrice Welles) re-synced the dialogue and re-recorded the musical score - an abomination to Welles purists. While it would have been preferable to adhere to Welles' vision for the film, such an endeavor becomes extremely difficult when no written record of Welles' intent exists (as it did with his famous 26-page memo to Universal regarding "Touch of Evil"). So it's true that the restored version lacks a degree of authenticity, but what are the alternatives? Grainy, scratched, poorly synced public domain prints (c.f. "Mr Arkadin" and "The Trial")? Or, worse, no available copy at all (c.f. "Chimes at Midnight")?

Anyway, on to the film. "Othello's" existence helps disprove the charges of profligacy and "fear of completion" that plagued Welles' career after "Citizen Kane." Shot over four years in Morocco and Italy, and financed largely by Welles himself, "Othello" manages to avoid a low-budget look, thanks largely to virtuoso editing that masks the incongruities of time and space. Welles' powers of invention are on full display here, most obviously in the famous Turkish bath scene (an improvised set necessitated by a lack of costumes). Set designer Alexandre Trauner's astute choice of Moroccan and Venetian locations instantly establishes a geographic authenticity; Welles initially exploits them for all their stark beauty before retreating into noirish interiors, underscoring Othello's descent into darkness.

Aside from Michael Macliammoir's chilling Method performance as Iago, the acting in Welles' "Othello" has been criticized as too restrained and modulated for Shakespearean tragedy. Such criticism is largely unwarranted, for this "Othello" is as much for the eyes as the ears: Welles' bold framing and expressionistic camera angles free the play from its theatrical moorings (pun intended), undermining the need for stage elocution. Indeed, the camera is the true star of this film, as Welles generates images that match the grandeur and eloquence of Shakespeare's language.
felt boot
felt boot
I must be one of the few who saw this film (more than once!) before it vanished in the 60's. I saw it on TV in the last 50's, and later brought it to the small college where I was teaching 63-65. Though heavily cut and more than a little rearranged, it is one of the very finest of Shakespeare films. Performances are generally excellent and unified in style and diction. Welles, or course, is magnificent. Anyone who thinks he was never anything but a self-parodying ham has not seen this film. One could wish than MacLiammoir had had more overt FUN as Iago, who does what he does, in part at least, in an attempt to stimulate himself out of his blunted affect. The film also has some of the finest black-and-white cinematography of all time, and uses architecture in a unique and effective way.
The power of Welles performance should make anyone not already an admirer stand up and take notice. The dark, brooding nature of Welles character sets the tone throughout this film. Each of the prominent characters seems to feed off this intensity, making each the better for it. The spartan sets and excellent use of lighting add to this powerful delivery making the words feel true and soul wrenching. I think this production could have been played out on a bare stage and still be regarded as a fine work, the dialogue and delivery is of such fine caliber. "The Moor of Venice" is a fine example of Orson Welles vast talents as a performer and director and should not be missed.

The recent restoration of Othello brings to cinematic space the magic of another masterpiece from Orson Welles. To think that a whole master negative of this film (which won the Best film at Cannes in 1952) was lying abandoned in a New Jersey warehouse, was discovered by accident and is the reason for this print that we now have access to, is enough to send shivers down the spine of any Welles-phile. . Mise-en-scene: Like with many of his other works involving especially Shakespeare, be prepared for Welles' licenses and personal interpretation of subject matter pertaining to Othello. Yet at the end, we are left with a feeling of deep tragedy and loss for Othello, played by Welles himself, and though we feel that Othello was quite an idiot, we at least feel that he was a very unfortunate idiot at that! . The problem may have been that the critical scene where Iago poisons Othello's mind and fuels his suspicion is scrappy and left unexplored. This may well have had little to do with Welles' artistic choices, and more with his monetary situation at the time. Welles' penury through his European sojourn is widely known and the passion with which he would invest into his films, every penny earned through moonlighting his booming voice and above-average acting skills is legendary, and should put this in context.

. The figure behavior of Micheál MacLiammóir is utterly convincing as the detestable Iago who is consumed by jealousy and rage at being overlooked as the second-in-command. But the person to steal our hearts is Suzanne Cloutier who portrays the fair-dame Desdemona. She is every bit as dainty as we would have imagined her to be. . The stripped down set design works wonderfully for the film and even though budgets may have been the driving force, Othello's barren palace is preceded only by the barrenness of his blinding jealousy and irrational actions. . Cinematography: As we have come to expect, Orson Welles has a unique cinematic language, through which he creates a Wellesian world of skin-burning close ups, dutched crazy world-frames and low angle shots to create a tense atmosphere of foreboding. But there is no better example of exploring and using frame depth than in Othello. Time and again Welles plays with foreground element to reveal psychologically subjective and meta-diagetic moods while cleverly using the depth in the frame to forward the narrative and plot the next progression. The title shots of the film are harrowing in their effect, with the interplay of high-contrast earth and sky contours that at once establish the mood for an intense cinematic experience. . Sound & Editing: The restored version has a brand-new soundtrack mentored by Welles' daughter, and while it enhances the experience to telling effect, it is irony to note that just the new soundtrack cost much more than what Welles assembled the whole film for. The fact that parts of the film were shot MOS and other parts used ADR is distracting due to the obvious lack of lip-sync, but in the final analysis, we watch Welles with reverence almost as if on a visit to Sunday Mass, paying homage, never once forgetting that were are witness to a filmmaker stripped of resources, devoid of many essential tools, but one with indomitable spirit who refused to be cowed-down. Othello is magical in its story telling and another worthy showcase of the genius of Orson Welles.
I've always been an admirer of Welles movies, starting with citizen Kane and the other masterpieces. Considering Othello, I highly admired this movie since the first shot, when the face of the dead Othello appears suddenly in the dark, and then the other details begin to appear, revealing the awesome funeral of both Othello and his murdered wife. In fact the best thing about this movie is the synchronization of the camera movement and angles with the state of mind and moods of characters especially that of Othello. Sometimes we are actually looking at the world through Othello's mind, the images are bizarre and grotesque, this is accompanies by wonderful acting of the cast. For any Welles fan this is a must see, considering the beauty of picture and creativity of interpretation. It's a pity that Welles didn't have a sufficient financial support to surpass some technical problems although the final effect and meaning of this masterpiece is not affected at all!
Orson Welles' Othello is certainly not to be counted amongst the director's best films, which are, of course, amongst the very best ever made, but it's good.

The opening is gorgeous: it begins in medias res, with Othello and Desdimona being carried away, corpses, and Iago being suspended from a castle turret in a small cage. Unfortunately, the adaptation falters all the way until the very end. I can't say that I am any kind of expert on the play, but I know that there is a lot missing. The film moves at the speed of sound, when it really shouldn't. Suspense has no time to brood. The play loses a great deal of its power through most of its run. It's simply dry of emotion for about an hour or more of the 93 minute running time. Most likely, this wasn't Welles' fault. There were a lot of problems on the production, and it took many years to complete it (the credits list no fewer than five photographers), and it's probably the case that not everything was completed by the time they edited it all together.

The pace is the biggest problem. The actors, too, are not strong. Welles himself is great, of course. Unfortunately the character of Othello really doesn't have all that big a part in the original play. Well, he begins to come in more nearer the end, but, as far as the "main character," Iago is it. Until the very end, the play is told from the point of view of Iago. The actor who plays him is decent, but decent isn't nearly good enough. Many of the other actors are weak, too. Cassio, heck, I didn't even know which actor was playing him most of the time. Desdimona is played by a truly beautiful young actress, but she isn't worthy of the role, sadly. To tell you the truth, the only character besides Othello who has a worthy actor in the role is Emilia, Iago's wife, who really, like Othello, doesn't have much to do for most of the film.

So for most of the film's run, we're left to sate ourselves on Orson Welles' beautiful visions. They're great, of course. They are better, however, almost everywhere else in Welles' world. It only beats F for Fake, which can hardly count in this contest.

Fortunately, the film pulls itself together by the climactic sequence. Welles is especially good, both as an actor and a director, in the bedroom scene. There is an absolutely stunning moment where Desdimona's white radiance fills most of the screen. Suddenly, Welles (in black face, of course) turns his face and reveals himself - mere centimeters above her head. I jumped.
The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor Of Venice was shot over three years, with several occasions when the shooting schedule closed down completely due to lack of funds (actor-director Orson Welles went away during these gaps in filming and made other movies, using his salary from those pictures to complete this one). Logic would suggest that any film made in such a disjointed way would surely be incoherent or at best rather lumpy. After all, if you're making a movie how can you get any sense of fluidity into the action and the acting if you keep stopping what you're doing for lengthy periods of time? Fortuitously Welles, who was an absolute genius of the cinema, somehow manages to pull all the disparate pieces of filming together, sewing three years' worth of interrupted footage into a fine quilt of a movie. For a film with one of the most disrupted production histories ever known, The Tragedy Of Othello: The Moor Of Venice is a quite remarkable achievement.

The film opens with Othello, the Moor of Venice (Orson Welles) being carried to his funeral in Cyprus alongside his beloved wife Desdemona (Suzanne Cloutier). Imprisoned in a cage high above this funeral procession is Othello's lieutenant - and once-trusted friend - Iago (Michael MacLiammoir). In flashback, we learn how Othello and Desdemona died, and why Iago is made to witness their journey to the grave from his undignified cage.

Iago, an ensign reluctantly working under Othello, dreams of having Desdemona for himself. With the help of rich Venetian Roderigo (Robert Coote), he plans to become her suitor. But Iago grows livid when he learns that Desdemona has already courted Othello and is now his wife. Determined to have his revenge, the villainous knave sets about ruining their relationship. He plants seeds of suspicion in Othello's mind and leaves cleverly "staged" circumstantial evidence lying about that will lead the Moor to unpleasant conclusions. Ultimately, Othello finds himself convinced that his wife is a cheating whore, so he kills her. Later he discovers his error and kills himself, but not before Iago's part in the tragedy is exposed and he is imprisoned for his treachery.

Welles the actor gives an impassioned performance as the titular character, while MacLiammoir is equally stunning as his jealous adversary. Welles the director shows tremendous resourcefulness, creating a wholly believable sense of authenticity in the sets and characters despite his limited funds and disrupted shooting schedule. The moody lighting and constantly off-kilter camera angles add to the film's considerable atmosphere. Evidence of this can be found in the famous Turkish Baths sequence, which may have been shot on an improvised set but contains extraordinary tension. The shot of Iago dangling in his miserable little cage above the funeral is also haunting and memorable. Critics have made much of the crackly sound quality and the amateurish playing of the supporting actors, and I must admit there is an element of truth in that. I have never seen the restored version of the film, which allegedly contains more audible sound recording. However, in spite of its flaws The Tragedy Of Othello: The Moor Of Venice is still striking cinema, and testament – if any is needed – that Welles was a master of his art.
Othello, Moor of Venice, loves Desdemonda. Unbeknownst to him, one of his lieutenants, Iago, seething with jealousy, plans to bring him down. Iago slowly builds a web of deceit and lies around Othello that leads him to question the faithfulness of his wife and men, ultimately pushing him to far...

Many a time has a white actor portrayed black Othello. Thankfully, Welles excels in the title role, his hurt palpable. In adapting Shakespeare's play, Welles has done away with subplots he deemed unnecessary. His "Othello" boils down to the title character, his wife, Iago and bit players (and impressive numbers of extras). Fans of the text may regret the absence of a character or the significant reduction of his/her importance. It diminishes the play but enhances the film, giving it a tighter focus and a more fluid structure and running time. But as always, we expect more from an Orson Welles film.

Orson Welles is mostly celebrated for reinventing the look of film. His pictures each possess a unique aesthetic and daring camera work. Othello holds its own even when measured against the impressive Welles oeuvre, a true miracle if you are familiar with the films' history. Shooting it over years and in different locations (Morocco, Spain, etc.) with variations, often within the same scene, Welles managed to create the watertight illusion of a coherent world, leading the viewer to imagine that lavish sets and locations were available. For anyone interested in editing or any other aspect of film-making, this is an indisputable milestone in directorial resourcefulness.

Othello was Welles's second Shakespeare interpretation as star and director, soaring high above his very interesting Macbeth. He would return to the Bard one last time with his apotheosis, Chimes at Midnight. This trilogy is a gift. What a joy it is to see America's greatest director work with the world's greatest playwright...
Orson Welles' short, low-budget, and in places fairly odd look at Shakespeare's play. It suffers from some stage-bound performances which don't quite work (Micheal MacLiammoir as Iago, Robert Coote as Rodrigo) plus an undefined Desdemona from Suzanne Cloutier.

However, this aside, Welles is marvellous as the Moor driven to jealousy and murder, his voice rolling through the meat of Othello's speeches, his bronze make-up creating a skin for the great general. For this performance alone the film is valuable. And it looks absolutely fantastic, springing off from its financial limitations and adding a new dimension to the often-told story.
I cannot fault Orson Welles' "Othello" for not being visually striking. Its opening scene alone is a wonder. As haunting choral music rings out in a grim and mournful dirge, the bodies of Othello and Desdemona, regal and melancholy in death, are borne together to their final resting place by a procession of priests who seem like specters silhouetted against the brilliant sky. Suddenly, a harried figure bursts on screen and jars the elegiac mood. It is Iago. In a series of quick, violent, frightful shots, he is dragged through the streets by a chain about his throat, at last hounded by soldiers and the mob into a cage. As the music thunders, Iago is hoisted above the scene to behold his work. The funeral passes.

This beginning is a brilliant melding of cinematography, music, and mise-en-scene. In other parts of the film, too, is Welles' cinematic genius evident. But his effective use of memorable and unorthodox camera angles and expressionistic lighting cannot make up for the crudeness and choppiness of his adaptation of Shakespeare's original work.

Othello as portrayed by Welles is a mammoth presence, but he is perhaps the only character to which the film does any justice. While Othello's monologues usually remain intact, the lines of the rest of the cast are often whittled down to a few sentences apiece in each scene. For example, Iago's forbidding musings to Roderigo in Act I of the play are all but omitted in favor of a brief narration by Welles, detailing Iago's treacherous nature. Telling Iago's deceit instead of letting it steadily emerge on screen seems an awkward and lazy move which does not allow the audience to become involved with the character – and as Iago is the driving force of the whole story, this damages the film's narrative considerably. The inadequate performance from actor Micheál MacLiammóir – who spends most of his time merely looking devious, without any skillful penetration of the depths of Iago's soul – may be because he had so little to work with, but it certainly does not help matters. Likewise, Roderigo and Cassio are nearly non-entities. Desdemona fares little better; her greatest and most human moments have been stripped from her. Perhaps it is small wonder that the actress who plays her seems underwhelming in her role. For much of the running time, she appears in fleeting flashes here and there, unable to build up the emotion needed so that viewers might actually care for her. One might marvel at the stifling and nightmarish close-up of Desdemona's face being smothered in a sheet, for indeed, it is a masterful composition. But the technical brilliance outweighs all else. Due to her relegation and lack of development, one can never fully connect with Desdemona and her plight – not even on her deathbed.

The chief good of Welles' finest interpretation of Shakespeare, "Chimes at Midnight", was that it took the time to delve into the humanity of its characters. Here, humanity is eviscerated and everyone except maybe Othello comes off as just a shallow sketch of themselves. Thus, the audience becomes incapable of totally appreciating the tragic story. For what does it matter if this character dies or that character is wounded if one knows next to nothing about them, or doesn't care? The cinematography may indeed be excellent, but without developed characterization, the lifeblood of the film is missing. Its emotional core is hollow.
Commenting on Shakespeare films is rather like admiring Easter Eggs.

First the inside: this was never a great play, relative to Shakespeare's other works. His great plays are about ideas, with characters as vectors to prod and activate them. This play is merely about characters, which makes it attractive to actors. That's certainly why Welles selected it.

Welles is the Sinatra of dramatic reading, with phrasing mastered in his radio days. All else is acceptable (at least to my tastes) so far as the play goes.

Now the shell, and here is what makes this film one of the most important. When Welles moved into film, he did so as an architect. He understood that great film constructs a space that includes the audience. So he worked with the most direct tools, buildings themselves. These sets are remarkable. I cannot imagine how he found them, how he could have seen the possibilities.

Selection aside, how he uses the spaces! View this film at least once in silence. I rate Welles as one of the 20th century's great architects and predict that this film will be mined when we get around to really creating cyberbuilding.
Right from the start, Othello has a striking visual style. Oblique camera angles (from low and high, close and far), nice use of shadows, a cool-looking castle. Really nice black-and-white imagery to look at.

On the other hand, I wasn't as convinced by the story and acting (but they grew on me as the film continued). There are many parts where actors seem to rush or mumble their lines. Shakespeare is hard enough to follow and a good performance should draw you in and make the dialogue *easier* to understand. Characters are often facing away so we hear their lines but can't see their mouths or their facial expressions. What's the point of acting then? I can act if acting means reciting lines from a Shakespearean play.

I have since learned that Welles was struggling with funds for the movie and that explains some of its short-comings. Especially with sound. He had to dub some of the lines himself and there remain parts which are clearly out of sync. It's hilarious to learn that he borrowed/took costumes from another movie to use on Othello. And that costumes weren't ready for one scene so he changed the location to a bathhouse with the actors in towels.

I find the story flawed. Iago is single-handedly able to manipulate Othello to his will. Iago is unlikable because of his misanthropy but Othello may be even more unlikable in his stupidity. He never thinks to properly analyse or question what Iago presents to him as the truth. He barely seems to communicate with his wife at all and becomes consumed by his obsessions and assumptions. But I do somewhat admire Iago's patience and intelligence, he makes a good villain. And there is real tragedy to what happens. It's conceivable that some unfortunate coincidences could help a seed of suspicion grow into the full-hearted conviction that you're being lied to. And to desire revenge is all too human. It's just funny that nobody suspects Iago. Othello would prefer to believe that everyone else is against him.

I found the ending climactic and meaningful. Some of it took me by surprise, other parts felt inevitable. I'm aware that Welles shortened the play a lot and may have taken liberties with it. At least I now have a rough idea of what Othello is about; I feel more educated. I liked all of the actors but Micheál MacLiammóir (a Dublin actor in his only feature film role) stands out as the antagonist. There's something about his eyes and calm indifference. Less is more.

Summarising, Othello is rewarding for its villain, its believable tragic turn of events and the enjoyable, creative cinematography. Now if only Othello could learn the scientific method...
The movie starts with the scene after the events of the story. Without dialogue, we see the doomed Othello and Desdemona in a funeral procession, while Iago is placed in a suspended cage as punishment for his crimes. A powerful scene-but unfortunately the depiction of the story fails.

The fatal error was the fact that while the dark visuals are impressive, I found the dialogue literally impossible to understand, let alone follow. This made the story genuinely impossible to follow- and the story did not even seem to much follow the original Shakespeare play. I cannot comment on how the original film might have been, but the restoration is a failure.
This may actually be one of the worst productions of Othello I have ever seen. Cuts are made left and right to the original script to the point where not only is Iago's entire motive for his actions lost, but the character of Desdemona may as well have been played by an inflatable sex doll for all the impact she has on the production. I don't know how much of this to blame on Welles (I couldn't help but notice all of HIS monologues were pretty much intact, while poor, honest Iago's either lie on the cutting room floor or were never filmed to begin with), or the editor of the film. Whichever is responsible should have been ashamed of themselves for turning out this slap in the face to Shakespeare.
The black and white photography is quite fitting with the theme of Shakespeare's play of a black man in a white society. The art direction and the use of shadows is absolutely stunning. The scene where Emilia reveals all that is shot with a huge giant gate as a backdrop is most memorable.

However, some Shakespeare loyalists may be annoyed that the film does not try to follow the play exactly. As well, it takes a while for most people to adjust to the fact that Othello, that is Orson Welles, is not really black, but just very, very darkly tanned. Outrageous(Some will say)! Couldn't they find a good black actor back then? Did they try?

Overall, I would be quick to recommend this film over the (awful) 1995 version starring Laurence Fishburne (Even though Fishburne looks 10X better than Welles as Othello).
Some years ago I saw a comedy acting troupe called The Reduced Shakespeare Company, who would perform a series of sketches on the bard's work. This culminated with a three-minute version of Hamlet – a few key lines blurted out (plus a few they made up), characters hurrying on and off, but every strand of the plot just about accounted for. It was a good laugh. When I see this screen adaptation of Othello from half a century earlier, it feels like I'm seeing more or less the same thing. Except it isn't funny.

This is one of a number of productions which star and director Orson Welles had trouble getting off the ground. As such it was filmed in bits and pieces, very much on the cheap. Perhaps Welles also had trouble getting permission to film in certain places, as every scene seems incredibly rushed, as if cast and crew were eager to wrap up. And the amount of editing going on suggests that perhaps Welles was using cameras that wouldn't hold more than two feet of film. There's a section of voice-over narration about ten minutes in where there is a cut every two words or so. It looks like a joke.

Welles knew what he was doing of course, and there is some kind of method to all this. When Othello makes his first appearance (shortly after the aforementioned voice-over sequence) we do at last get a slightly longer take, which gives an air of power and dignity in contrast to the rush of what went before. But Welles gets the balances wrong. Most of the movie is too fast, too choppy. The actual images are some of the most breathtaking Welles ever shot (and that is saying something), beautifully baroque compositions of shadow and architecture, but a motion picture must be more than a series of pretty pictures.

The principle victim of this hurried version of Othello is probably Shakespeare himself. Shakespeare's dialogue, for all its brilliance, can be hard going on an audience at the best of times and it takes skilled interpretation to bring it to life. By condensing the play and rushing the performances, Welles has actually made it more impenetrable. In short, this one is probably only of interest to the Welles fanatics. Don't see it if you want to know Othello. It simply doesn't do the bard justice.
Othello (1951)

*** (out of 4)

A crooked Iago (Michael MacLiammoir) decides to tell Othello (Orson Welles) that his wife Desdemona (Suzanne Cloutier) is having an affair with an officer. This leads Othello's jealousy to grow to the point of murder.

OTHELLO, sadly, turned into yet one of many issues that writer-director-actor Orson Welles had throughout his career. if you know anything about Welles then you probably know that his productions were constantly running into various issues and there are several films out there that were never finished. Then there are films like OTHELLO that were shot over a number of years because Welles kept running out of money. Not to mention that this film is out there in at least four different versions. Having now seen the original version that showed at Cannes and the 1992 restored version, I'd argue that the restored version is the better of the two.

There are some truly terrific things in the film and we can start with the performances. Welles turns in a wonderful and deep performance as Othello and the actor has no problem at getting into the darkness of the character and the way Welles shows off the character's jealous rage is perfectly done. I really thought the actor did a masterful job and delivers a well-rounded performance. MacLiammoir is also terrific as he has that perfect snake quality that a villain needs. Cloutier is also very good in her role of the confused wife.

The cinematography is certainly top-notch and it's easy to see how this film would influence the work of Ingmar Bergman. I'd also argue that the ending is quite powerful in its own right. With all of that said, there are certainly some flaws here including the fact that it's clear that some of the scenes were shot at different times. This doesn't hamper the film too much but it's still quite obvious. I'd also argue that the film isn't as powerful as it could have been throughout.

Still, OTHELLO is a fine motion picture and it shows what Welles could do in a troubled production without the money he needed.
Welles does Shakespeare with a few problems. The major problem being that this film was shot over a period of about 4 years because of financial problems and it shows in its amateurish battle scenes. The other is some poor editing that doesn't allow the intensity of the film to flow with its marvellous photography and art direction. Another near masterpiece by Welles.
The Orson Welles version of Shakespeare's "Othello" is a fascinating interpretation of this powerful story of jealousy and rivalry, even if it ends up being as much Welles as Bard. Welles's fine acting and distinctive directing make this one of the most interesting screen versions of Shakespeare's plays.

Welles has considerably abridged the original text, and has also filmed some scenes in a different order. But the dialogue is still Shakespeare's, and the essentials of the story are the same, though perhaps with different emphasis on certain aspects of it.

As an actor, Welles makes a good Othello. He was always at his best in portraying greatness mixed with a tragic flaw. His interpretation of the character makes us understand his agony even as we see how misguided he is in distrusting his wife. Micheal MacLiammoir also makes a fine, villainous Iago.

But it is Welles the director who give the film its distinctive touch. The period setting and the emotional themes allow Welles to make full use of his talent for unusual camera angles and interesting use of settings. Welles is especially indulgent with the camera angles in "Othello", and they help emphasize the disorientation that Othello feels as he struggles to overcome his worst fears and suspicions.

Any Welles fan, and any Shakespeare fan who will not mind Welles' re-arrangement of the play, will find this combination of Orson and Bard well worth the time to see.
If you would seek some kind of perspective on the Motion Picture industry you could do worse than study the career of old Awesome; a string of masterpieces - Kane, Chimes At Midnight, Touch Of Evil - and nearasdammit masterpieces - Ambersons, Mr. Arkadin, Journey Into Fear -which he either wrote, directed and appeared in, sometimes all three, liberally laced with the trash in which he deigned to act - The Black Fox, Ferry To Hong Kong etc - in order to finance projects like this one, which belongs right up there with the masterpieces. I note that much verbiage has been spilled under this title on IMDb debating and disputing the pros and cons of the 'restored' version and whether or not it was indeed ever 'lost'. This is surely academic at best; what matters is that we now HAVE a close approximation of what Awesome intended and frankly if it were any closer I couldn't stand it. The pre-credit sequence alone is worthy of one of the great Silent masters, Gance, Dreyer and like that and the first shot proper is magisterial. Time and time again Welles uses the landscape to compose startling images only to contrast this with key speeches like 'farewell the tranquil mind ...' which he shoots more or less straight and who else but Awesome could make such a virtue out of necessity as in the scene slated for conventional filming until the costumes failed to turn up; his solution, stage it in a bath-house with the actors wearing towels which were themselves borrowed from their hotel. It was Welles himself who made the finest Shakespearean film of all time in Chimes At Midnight and with Othello he runs it a close second. Unmissable.
As typical in Hollywood, this version takes great liberty with artistic license. The Welles film creates a hodgepodge of events from Shakespeare's beautiful but tragic story, thus rendering the final product as a shell of the original. The events of the film happen so fast and in such disjointed fashion that the viewer is left confused as to the plot itself. Passages have been transposed with upcoming scenes, significant dialogue necessary to understanding character and plot development omitted, and muttered lines that are often inaudible or difficult to make out abound. With versions like this, it is no wonder why people sadly proclaim that they don't understand Shakespeare. So sad, especially when there are so many decent alternatives available that do justice to Shakespeare's classic. Trevor Nunn's made-for-TV version, for instance, is one such example. It features Ian McKellen in a masterful role as Iago, a highly credible Willard White as Othello, and Imogen Stubbs as the pure Desdemona. Naturally, nothing can match the beauty of Shakespeare's text itself. Once it has been read, it becomes painfully evident why the Welles film is, tragically, an artistic failure.
The Rollers of Vildar
The Rollers of Vildar
Pros= The European version of the film is great.

The acting is acceptable.

Cons= Orson Welles playing a Moor. The characters are uninteresting.
No, I'm not trolling. I like a lot of Shakespeare's plays so I thought I'd try Othello. I hope it's the last time I see any version of probably the most implausible movie I've ever seen. In case you missed it: * Someone suggests to Othello, a newly married man who's infatuated with his wife, that she's cheating on him. Instead of telling him he's out of line, Othello believes him. * He goes on a military campaign and takes with him not just his wife, but also her maid. * He tramples on a handkerchief that he later says is of utmost sentimental value to him. * Despite being in charge of the Venetian army, he has hours every day to talk one-on-one, to one of his advisers, about his personal life. * Iago and Cassio have a conversation about Bianca in which Cassio doesn't once mention Bianca's name. * Desdemona mentions Cassio all the time. If she was having an affair with him, wouldn't she try to make it a bit less obvious? * Roderigo tells Iago that he doesn't trust him, and not thirty seconds later agrees when Iago suggests he kill Cassio. * Cassio, dying, says that he had two killers, but nobody bothers to look for the second one. * Othello overhears a conversation between Emilia and Desdemona which makes it clear that Desdemona has done nothing wrong, but still thinks she's being unfaithful to him. * Despite the fact that there's precisely, exactly, zero chemistry between Cassio and Desdemona when they're together, and the fact that nobody but Iago is suspicious, and that Cassio is already seeing someone else, and that Othello raises his suspicions with not a single other person, and the overheard conversation, he still thinks she's unfaithful. * He locks himself in their bedroom, knowing that Emilia has seen him, before he kills her, making him the only possible murderer. * When Emilia points out that Desdemona is (was) innocent, Othello, having been sure enough of her guilt for days and days, and sure enough to kill her only ten minutes earlier, suddenly decides she was innocent. OK, so I get that people don't always act rationally when love is involved, but seriously, that doesn't even explain even half of the above. I did battle my way to the end of it, but honestly, that's an hour and a half of my life that I'll never get back.
When one talks of the extravagance that Orson Welles is known for they usually have Othello in mind. When people talk of screen Othellos it's usually the one Laurence Olivier did in 1965 for which he got one of his Oscar nominations. It's good, but it's essentially a photographed stage version.

If he didn't have the budget problems he did Welles might have done the acclaimed Othello for the ages. This took over three years of shooting and it's lucky that he was able to hold as much of his cast together as he did. As it was Suzanne Cloutier as Desdemona was a third choice and Michael McLiammor was a second choice after Everett Sloane had to leave for other commitments. Interesting because Sloane was apparently the only old Mercury Theater regulars slated for Othello although Joseph Cotten is reputed to be an extra as is Joan Fontaine. I searched for them and did fine.

That all being said Welles really had a sure hand with Othello, the man who wrestled with the green eyed monster and lost. Although I think Everett Sloane would have done wonders with Iago we are privileged to see Irish player Michael McLiammor in his only feature film role and he certainly knows the right buttons to press with the man he serves.

Welles started Othello after he had done MacBeth for Republic Pictures and he was certainly constrained by the notorious penny pinching Herbert J. Yates there. I think he needed a big studio to have faith in him to being this off the way Olivier did with his Shakespeare films. Failing that he went independent and pledged the salaries he commanded for three fine films, Prince Of Foxes and The Black Rose with Tyrone Power and The Third Man the last being one of the greatest films ever made to keep Othello going.

Maybe this is not the definitive Othello film, but it's one fine piece of work achieved under remarkable circumstances. Maybe one day someone will make a movie about the making of Othello. It's a great story.