The Tragedy of Macbeth


2h 20m 1971

Brief Synopsis

A Scottish warlord and his wife murder their way to a pair of crowns.

Film Details

Also Known As
Macbeth
MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Drama
Adaptation
Historical
Release Date
Dec 1971
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 15 Dec 1971; New York opening: 20 Dec 1971
Production Company
Caliban Films, Ltd.; Playboy Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Holy Island--Lidifarne Castle, England, Great Britain; Holy Island--Lindisfarne Castle, England, Great Britain; London, England, Great Britain; Snowdonia National Park, Wales, Great Britain; Northumberland--Bamburgh Castle, Great Britain; Wales, Great Britain
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare (London 1605-06, published 1623).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 20m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

In 13th-century Scotland, three witches bury a disembodied hand clutching a knife. Soon after, the Scottish thanes conquer the invading army of Norway, and when King Duncan surveys the aftermath, he learns that his general, Macbeth, has acted with exceptional loyalty and bravery. Upon discovering that the Thane of Caudor betrayed the crown, Duncan orders that his title be given to Macbeth. Meanwhile, as Macbeth and fellow general Banquo travel home, they come upon the witches, who hail Macbeth as the Thane of Caudor and add that he will soon be king. Banquo then asks about his own future, which the witches declare will involve siring kings, though he will not reign. Although the men scoff at the prophecy, Macbeth's ambition has been pricked, and he writes to his wife of the divination, immediately preoccupied with thoughts of his possible ascendance. After the men camp for the night, a messenger arrives to relate Macbeth's new title, and Macbeth and Banquo realize with shock that the witches' prediction has begun to come true. Still, Banquo warns his friend that "sometimes darkness woos us with trifles to lure us into evil." As they head toward Duncan's castle, the ambitious Lady Macbeth soon receives her husband's letter and, thrilling to the idea that she may one day be queen, worries that Macbeth is not devious enough to accomplish the goal. At the king's court, Macbeth is pleased by Duncan's warm welcome, but his jealousy is stirred when the king announces that his oldest son Malcolm will inherit the throne. Macbeth hurries to his castle at Dunsinane to inform Lady Macbeth that Duncan will arrive shortly. As they prepare a welcoming feast, Lady Macbeth urges her husband to plot Duncan's murder that night. Later, she steels herself to remain steadfast and remorseless, knowing that her resolve is stronger than her husband's. Duncan arrives, and during the dinner in his honor, Macbeth is lost in misgivings, aware that Duncan is a virtuous king and a trusting guest in his home. When he tells Lady Macbeth that he has changed his mind, however, she brands him a coward and exhorts him to "screw your courage to the sticking place and we'll not fail." As she has planned, they drug Duncan's two grooms, leaving the king vulnerable while he sleeps. Plagued by a vision of a ghostly dagger floating before him, Macbeth enters the king's chamber and stabs him repeatedly, until the crown rolls from the dead man's head. He creeps back to Lady Macbeth's bedroom, where she is horrified to see that he still carries two bloody daggers in his hand. As he washes his hands anxiously, she plants the knives in the unconscious grooms' hands and smears Duncan's blood on their faces. In the morning, Macduff, the Thane of Fife, arrives to greet the king, and upon discovering his body, wakes the castle to bemoan the news. While the thanes gather, Macbeth kills the grooms, declaring that they are the murderers. Malcolm and his brother Donalbain, surveying the carnage, determine that the murderer may turn on them next and flee, Malcolm to England and Donalbain to Ireland. As Duncan's body is borne away, Macbeth is crowned king, to the murmurings of the thanes that perhaps he engineered the murder. As Banquo worries for Macbeth's integrity, the new sovereign recalls the witches' statement that Banquo will beget kings, and concludes that his friend's existence endangers him. Some time after, he encourages two men to murder Banquo and his son Fleance, but when they are attacked, Banquo manages to save Fleance, who flees as his father is ambushed. Learning that Fleance has survived, Macbeth imprisons the assassins, then joins his guests at dinner. There, wracked with guilt over his deeds and fear that he will soon be overthrown, Macbeth sees the bloody ghost of Banquo and raves at the apparition. Horrified, Lady Macbeth sends the guests home. Macbeth goes to the witches' den, where a naked coven shows him a vision of a threatening Macduff, then assures him that "none of woman born shall harm" him and that he will survive until the "Burnham Wood comes to Dunsinane." Upon returning home, he learns that Macduff has fled to England to join Malcolm, and sends his men to slaughter the thane's family. Later, Lady Macbeth sleepwalks through the castle murmuring about her guilt over Duncan's murder, prompting her servant to call in the doctor for a consultation. The doctor approaches Macbeth, informing him that "the patient must cleanse his own mind." As time passes and Macbeth grows more arrogant and brutal, the thanes covertly hope to unseat him. When one nobleman, Ross, travels to England to notify Macduff of his family's murder, Malcolm urges Macduff to turn his grief into vengeance. They travel to Burnham Forest, and there form a rebel army. Macbeth hears about the uprising and, mourning the loss of his wife's sanity, his friendships and his peace of mind, prepares himself to die. In a last stand, however, he dons his armor and readies the castle for a battle. After Lady Macbeth, mad with guilt, throws herself off the wall to her death, Macbeth laments that life "is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." He watches from the castle as the army approaches, disguised as trees, and realizes that as predicted, Burham Wood has come to Dunsinane. The army invades the castle, where Macduff finds Macbeth seated on his throne. Although clearly defeated, Macbeth exults that he fears no man from woman born, and so fails to kill Macduff when he has the chance. In response, Macduff declares that he was "from my mother's womb untimely ripped," and slices off Macbeth's head. Ross passes the crown to Malcolm, hailing him as the new king of Scotland. As the countrymen celebrate, however, Donalbain slips off to consult the witches, hoping for a prophesy of his own triumph.

Film Details

Also Known As
Macbeth
MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Drama
Adaptation
Historical
Release Date
Dec 1971
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 15 Dec 1971; New York opening: 20 Dec 1971
Production Company
Caliban Films, Ltd.; Playboy Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Holy Island--Lidifarne Castle, England, Great Britain; Holy Island--Lindisfarne Castle, England, Great Britain; London, England, Great Britain; Snowdonia National Park, Wales, Great Britain; Northumberland--Bamburgh Castle, Great Britain; Wales, Great Britain
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare (London 1605-06, published 1623).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 20m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Quotes

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
- Macbeth
Fair is foul and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air.
- Three Witches
False face must hide what false heart doth know.
- Macbeth
Look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under't.
- Lady Macbeth
To know my deed 'twere best not know myself.
- Macbeth

Trivia

Richard Vetter's TODD-AO 35 lenses won an Academy Award for reducing anamorphic distortion in close-ups. Vetter also designed the D-150 process used in Patton (1970).

Director Roman Polanski's wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by Charles Manson around the time of the making of the film. It is belived that due to this traumatic event, Polanski developed the story to be a more violent representation of Shakespeare's play. For instance, the scene in which Macbeth murders King Duncan was not in the original play and was instead implied.

Notes

The opening credits are preceded by the scene of the three witches burying a hand in the sand. The title credit reads, "Roman Polanski's Film Macbeth," after which the words "The Tragedy of" and "by William Shakespeare" are superimposed around the word Macbeth. The opening and closing cast credits vary slightly in order. Although the film spells the character name as "Caudor," in Shakespeare's play the name is spelled "Cawdor." Much of "Macbeth's" and "Lady Macbeth's" soliloquies are presented as voice-over narration by the respective actors. During the scene in which Macbeth, as king, visits the witches' coven, the witches are naked, as is Lady Macbeth during the scene in which she sleepwalks.
       As noted in studio press notes and a June 1971 feature in Show, in 1970 director Roman Polanski approached Kenneth Tynan, the literary manager of the British National Theatre, to collaborate on a script for a screen version of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Polanski stated in the Show article that he first made a deal with a studio, identified in Polanski's autobiography as Allied Artists, but they reneged. He and Tynan, who was a contributing editor to Playboy magazine, then showed their screenplay to Playboy Enterprises' Victor Lownes, who passed it to Playboy magazine owner Hugh Hefner [credited onscreen as Hugh M. Hefner]. Hefner then approved Macbeth as the first production for his recently formed feature film company, Playboy Productions. Playboy and Columbia were announced in contemporary sources as co-producers, and Polanski noted in his autobiography that he then formed the independent production company Caliban Films, Ltd. with his producing partner, Andrew Braunsberg.
       Much of the play's original text was excised for the film version. In addition, the filmmakers added the silent sequence at the end in which Donalbain seeks counsel from the witches. Special effects were used to portray "Banquo's" ghost as well as Macbeth's dream sequences and hallucinations. During the production, Polanski stated in many news items that he had specifically cast young leads in order to heighten the sexual power that he felt Lady Macbeth had over her husband.
       Polanski stated in his autobiography that he considered Victoria Tennant and Tuesday Weld for the role of Lady Macbeth. Press notes state that the film was shot on location in Snowdonia National Park in Wales, with Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland providing the exteriors for King Duncan's castle, and Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island standing in for Macbeth's castle. As noted in the closing credits, interiors were shot at the Shepperton Studios. According to the Show article, the production was originally planned to start in early fall 1970, but after Allied Artists dropped out, the schedule was pushed back to Nov. As a result, the winter months' freezing and stormy weather plagued the crew and caused delays.
       In February 1971, Hollywood Reporter reported that London bonding company Film Finance, Ltd. was so concerned about budget overages that they brought in director Peter Collinson to watch the production, hoping to replace Polanski with him. In response, Hefner flew to the set and agreed to finance the debt personally. According to a July 1971 Variety article, Columbia, the film's global distributor, "wasn't on the hook for any additional expenses that might accrue." Polanski added in his autobiography that Film Finance had forced him to replace Braunsberg with David W. Orton; Braunsberg receives onscreen credit as producer, while Orton is credited as production advisor. Martin Shaw made his feature film debut as "Banquo." A modern source adds John Ireland as dialogue editor and Russ Jones as stunt double,
       Macbeth marked Polanski's first feature since the brutal murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, by Charles Manson and his followers. On August 9, 1969, four of Manson's followers invaded Polanski's home while he was away and murdered Tate, who was eight months pregnant, and three friends. The press coverage of the subsequent arrests, as well as the bizarre behavior of the Manson "family" members at their trial, aroused the fascination and curiosity of the public (for additional information on the murders, consult the entry above for The Other Side of Midnight). Interest in the murders, coupled with the fact that Tynan's previous project had been the play Oh! Calcutta!, which shocked theatergoers with nude actors onstage, led many reporters to speculate that Macbeth would feature excessive violence and nudity. Polanski remarked in a January 1971 Time article: "It's ridiculous, but because of the association [with Tate's murder], there's a feeling that whatever I come up with here will be quite grotesque." Although some critics guessed that Hefner's influence inspired the nude scenes, Tynan stated in the Show feature that the decision to include nudity had predated Playboy's association with the production.
       A November 1970 Variety article stated that the script had been approved by the PCA before shooting began. As noted in the Variety review, the film was edited to obtain an R rating for its world premiere in America. It opened in New York on December 20, 1971 at the newly built Playboy Theater. Many reviewers once again referenced the Manson murders, commenting on the possible connection between Polanski's personal life and the film's gloomy, violent tone.
       Macbeth won the National Board of Review award for Best Motion Picture. Despite its accolades, however, the film was a box-office disappointment. Hollywood Reporter reported in September 1973 that Playboy Enterprises was anticipating a $1.8 million loss write-off for the film, precipitating a general drop in earnings for the company. For a list of other films adapted from Shakespeare's play, see the entry for the 1948 Orson Welles film version of Macbeth.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall October 13, 1971

Re-released in United States November 12, 1999

Released in United Kingdom on video July

1999 re-release is a new 35mm print.

This film marks the 16th known film version of the play.

Released in United States Fall October 13, 1971

Re-released in United States November 12, 1999 (Film Forum; New York City)

Third Ear Band