The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice (1952)
Directed by Orson Welles

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * ½

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After Othello (Orson Welles), a Moor serving as the commander of the Venetian military, marries Desdemona (Suzanne Cloutier), the daughter of a nobleman, Iago (Micheál MacLiammóir), an ensign who despises the general, plots to convince him that his new bride has been unfaithful.

Orson Welles' The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice, which is based on Shakespeare's play of the same title, is a gorgeous, bewitching film.

The director has taken a number of liberties with the original work, but these changes have been made with such skill that the movie is actually enriched by them. The funeral sequences which Welles has added to the story at its beginning and end, for example, are entrancing and arouse feelings of catastrophic sadness. Some of Welles' other alterations, such as his removing the poet's comic touches and his diminishing the importance of secondary characters, also contribute to the movie's sense of tragedy, while still others prevent it from seeming like a filmed version of a play. The director has, in fact, crafted an original work of art.

Perhaps Othello's most appealing elements are, however, its visual qualities. Welles has conjured up a genuinely stunning vision that transports the viewer to a rarefied, strangely liminal world of such poignant loveliness that he remains mesmerized by the movie for the whole of its duration. At various points throughout his film, Welles reveals images of Desdemona standing before shadows of fluttering banners, of the silhouettes of mourners walking underneath the towering form of a bishop, of beplumed halberdiers waiting before a castle's walls, of armed men racing through a vaulted passage, and of countless others besides these.

Moreover, the movie is a joy to hear. The actors usually avoid excessive efforts at mimicking naturalistic speech, and, as a result, Shakespeare's lines retain their timeless beauty. The score, more often than not, complements the film's images and words, and, when it does, it adds to the emotive impact of such elements. There are, admittedly, a few times when the music becomes overwrought, but these moments are never so annoying that they spoil the viewer's enjoyment of the movie.

Lastly, I should note that the performances of the cast members are generally accomplished. Welles himself is enthralling as Othello and brings out the character's honor, honesty, and dignity, as well as his fiery temper and his increasingly overwhelming jealous. Micheál MacLiammóir is deliciously sly as the scheming Iago and gives life to that man's cold villainy. A few of the supporting players are either forgettable or even clumsy, but the leads more than compensate for their weaknesses.

The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice is a consistently captivating and deeply affecting film. It is certainly one of the director's finest works.

Review by Keith Allen

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