This film is a fairly faithful rendition of Shakespeare's play. The video package calls it "...one of the greatest experimental films ever made under the Hollywood studio system." But that, of course, is saying very little. While not nearly as uninspired as Olivier's screen adaptations of Shakespeare, as a film this work is distinguished only by its atmospherics. It has the look of an expressionistic stage production and only rarely makes use of the special qualities of film. However, as a stage production, this work has much to recommend it.
The entire film seems to have been shot at night and mostly on a single set. The low key lighting is reminiscent of the film noir classics of the same post-war era. About the only scene that seems truly cinematic is the movement of Birnam Wood: the use of fog gives the appearance that the woods really are moving. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Kurosawa's admiration can be gleaned from his near identical depiction of this scene in Throne of Blood.
This film's greatest attribute is its cast. Welles himself plays Macbeth and he excels in the role. He very convincingly characterizes the combination of ambition and remorse that provides the key to Macbeth's actions throughout the play. Many productions of the play make Lady Macbeth the sole source of the couple's avarice for power. But here, Welles gives us a more believable depiction of the dynamics involved.
Lady Macbeth is played by Jeanette Nolan and she too distinguishes herself through a superb performance. Her Lady Macbeth exhibits a sensual passion that motivates both her all-consuming ambition and, later, her all-devouring guilt. This provides great depth to a character who is all too often played as a two-dimensional cartoon.
This film, recently restored to Welles' original, full-length version, is well worth seeing.