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Othello Criterion Blu-ray Review


Orson Welles’ “Othello” is a flawed, but quality adaptation of the classic Shakespeare play.

Based on William Shakespeare’s iconic play of the same name, Orson Welles’ take on “Othello” tells the same tragic story of the villainous Iago tearing apart the lives of the esteemed General (Othello) and his love (Desdemona) with lies of infidelity. Really, if you don’t know the story by now, well, you should.

While there have been better film adaptations over the years (I’m quite partial to “O” and the 1955 “Othello” with Laurence Fishburne), Orson Welles’ adaptation is a truncated, but ultimately faithful version of the great play. From a production perspective, it is quite impressive given the fact that this was a rather low-budget indie filmed over the course of 3 years. The picturesque shooting locations and the costumes are particularly noteworthy here. With all of that said, the film’s shortcomings are quite apparent. The editing is sometimes quick and choppy and is clearly masking problems, and there’s quite a bit of offscreen dialogue and narration. Does any of this ruin the film? Absolutely not, but it does stick out.

Luckily, the acting makes up for any flaws that are present on screen. While it pains me to see actors in blackface, there’s no denying that Orson Welles has a striking screen presence as the titular character. However, the real stand-outs, to me at least, are Micheal MacLiammoir as Iago and the underrated Suzanne Cloutier as the pure and innocent Desdemona. Both actors not only hold their own opposite Welles, but they both really elevate the movie. Even with the lovely scenery, it’s the acting that drives this movie at the end of the day.

Note: This Blu-ray disc contains both the 1952 European 93 minute cut and the 1955 US/UK 91 minute cut.


Presentation: 1.37:1 1080p. How does it look? The 4K digital transfers of both cuts of the B&W are superb. While there is noticeable wear on the prints, there’s no doubt that they have been cleaned up quite a bit.

Audio Tracks: Uncompressed Mono. How do they sound? Strangely, the 1955 cut has a rather lackluster and low sounding track while the 1952 version offers up a louder and better quality track.

Extras: A fold-out booklet featuring photos, credits, and an essay by Geoffrey O’Brien, a solid 1994 commentary on the 1955 version by Peter Bogdanovich and Myro Meisel, a 22 minute interview with veteran actor and Orson Welles biographer Simon Callow who chats about “Othello,” his life and career, fascinating behind-the-scenes stories about Othello’s production, and more, an 83 minute 1979 docu titled “Filming Othello” which includes a plethora of footage of Orson Welles discussing the project himself, a short film ghost story titled “Return To Glennascaul” starring Welles, another documentary titled “Souvenirs D Othello” that primarily features an interview with Suzanne Cloutier (Desdemona in the film), an interview with Professor/Author Ayanna Thompson who talks about the history of white actors portraying the titular role, an interview with author Joseph McBride (who penned a book about Orson Welles), and lastly an intercuew with film scholar/author Francois Thomas about the various versions of Orson’s “Othello.”

November 15, 2017 - Posted by | Blu-Ray review | , , ,

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