Macbeth (Roman Polanski / United Kingdom, 1971):

Dusky oranges yield to arctic blues, the witches’ sticks pierce the opening image in anticipation of the hurlyburly to come. The Scottish moors, or somewhere less earthly? "This place is too cold for Hell!" Roman Polanski’s worldview of brutish power-plays couldn’t be more at home in Shakespeare’s medieval times: A soldier surveys the charred landscape after battle, walks up to a fallen enemy and delivers a few more ax thwacks for good measure. There are no knights, the suits of armor are rusty and blood-spattered. Violence comes easily to Macbeth (Jon Finch), who "play’dst most fondly" for the hags’ prophecies. No al fresco composition is without darkening clouds, no occasion for vivid widescreen slaughter is wasted; the murder of Duncan (Nicholas Selby) is a gruesome close-up surrounded by dismembered sentries, the betrayed Banquo (Martin Shaw) materializes at the banquet like one of Goya’s goblins. Polanski observes it all with matchless camerawork reminiscent of Preminger (Saint Joan), following characters up and down stairs and into corridors, floating on their malice. "Horror, horror! Confusion hath made his masterpiece!" Sharon Tate's murder looms inescapably on the screen -- the smoky sabbath is an unholy dilation of the wrinkled Satan-worshippers of Rosemary’s Baby, there’s no missing the Mansonite whiff of the raid on Macduff’s (Terence Bayler) clan. Reviewers at the time giggled at Lady Macbeth’s (Francesca Annis) nude sleepwalking as a concession to producer Hugh Hefner without bothering to notice the fragility of her trembling figure, or for that matter the mirrors, grinning jesters, and ferocious camera zooms of the protagonist’s remarkable caldron hallucination. The sword-clanking finale is a clear-as-a-nightmare culmination of the barbaric aesthetic: The crown goes on the head, the head comes off. "I’ve almost forgotten the taste of fear," says the usurper. Polanski never could forget. Cinematography by Gilbert Taylor. With John Stride, Stephan Chase, Paul Shelley, Maisie MacFarquhar, Elsie Taylor, and Noelle Rimmington.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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