Probably the least seen of Orson Welles’ great films, this Shakespeare adaptation was filmed over the course of nine months, shot on a shoestring and barely released. For his screenplay, Welles extracted the Falstaff scenes from several Shakespeare plays, keeping just enough of the other scenes to give political context for the oversized clown. Despite budget problems, the film still captures the Welles magic. He uses vast sets for Henry IV’s castle, while the lower-class taverns and bawdy houses where Falstaff and Prince Hal play have low ceilings and an appealingly cluttered look. He also continues to prove a master of deep focus, as in the scene in which the prince learns his father has died. With little money, Welles shot the 10-minute battle scene in quick cuts that throw the viewer into the middle of the action. Because of his reputation, Welles attracted a stellar cast that included Jeanne Moreau, Margaret Rutherford, John Gielgud, Keith Baxter and, as narrator, Ralph Richardson. At the center of it all is Welles as the oversized braggart John Falstaff, a role he was born to play. As a once-great hero fallen on hard times and a hardscrabble life, Falstaff in many ways is Orson Welles.
(d. Orson Welles, 115 m, Digital)