CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT

For many, Citizen Kane, made when Orson Welles was 25 years old, is the greatest achievement of the filmmaker’s tempestuous career. The shadow of Kane is indeed long, and Welles never quite found his way out of it, but it was 1965’s Chimes at Midnight that brought the director a sense of pride. “If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of one movie, that’s the one I would offer up,” he told an interviewer in 1982. Adapting, reworking, and interpreting Shakespeare’s Henriad, Welles refashions the historical series around Falstaff (Welles), a grandiose man with the figure to match. Keith Baxter plays Prince Hal, the impetuous heir to the throne, and Flastaff’s drinking buddy. Sir John Gielgud, no stranger to the boards, plays King Henry IV with such command that when he speaks, your blood runs cold. And when Hal ascends the throne, he too must speak with icicles. Only, this time, it’s Falstaff on the other end. His heartbreaks, as will yours. Not just for Falstaff, but for Welles, who too was left out in the cold when Hollywood turned its back on him. Thankfully, Welles refused to take the hint. He continued to work for the remainder of his life, in fits and starts, abroad and at home. And, like many of his later works, Chimes at Midnight, was finished and then buried. Thankfully, Janus Films gave the film a fitting restoration in 2016, sparking a long-overdue reassessment of Welles’ later period, now streaming on The Criterion Channel, HBO Max, and Kanopy. Header photo courtesy Janus Films.