Fighting the uphill battle inherent in all international co-productions of its time and the limitations of recording dialogue in post-production, Orson Welles, nonetheless, emerged victorious with Chimes at Midnight (1966)—perhaps the only one of his films that can really give Citizen Kane (1941) a run for its money as the filmmaker’s finest work. Stranger still is the fact that this patchwork narrative—built around the character of Jack Falstaff (Welles) and cobbled together from several plays—represents one of the most successful translations of Shakespeare to film. And for a fairly rarely seen film (until recently it was all but out of circulation), it has a significant follower in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho (1991), which has more to do with Welles’ film than their shared Shakespeare basis (just look at the resemblance between Keith Baxter here and Keanu Reeves in Van Sant’s movie).
Now that the film is back among us, perhaps it will finally get its due as the masterpiece it is. This is big and bold filmmaking—and not just due to its amazing battle with its aggressive editing style either. Everywhere you turn there is something remarkable to be seen: a brilliant composition, a surprising camera movement, a great performance. And at the center of it all is Welles himself holding the proceedings in place. Though Welles thought little of himself as an actor (an exercise that made him wholly self-conscious), he embodies every note of the character here. You’ll not soon forget his reaction at the end, when Prince Hal becomes King Hal and disowns him. Watch him suddenly become truly old for the first time, while realizing that this is as it should be, and that he can take some credit in the making of this king.