‘Chimes at Midnight’
Director: Orson Welles
Stars: Orson Welles, Keith Baxter
5 (out of 5) Globes
In Steven Soderbergh’s book “Getting Away With It,” “A Hard Day’s Night” director Richard Lester recalls a story from when he was on the jury at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival. The latest from Orson Welles — the Shakespeare film “Chimes at Midnight,” revolving around portly gourmand Falstaff — was there and, as Lester tells it, he was all but “guaranteed the top award if he showed up.” Like a lot of the jury, Lester wasn’t entirely taken with it, and when word of that spread he found himself summoned up to a hotel room with Welles and his producer, Harry Saltzman. Saltzman cornered Lester and told him, in CIA-level menacing tones, they were “counting on him.”
They couldn’t count on him. “Chimes at Midnight” lost to both Pietro Germi’s forgotten Italian sex comedy “Signore & Signori” and Claude Lelouch’s trendy romance “A Man and a Woman.” Instead it netted the “Technical Grand Prize” — effectively a thanks-for-your-years-of-service gold watch version of a trophy.
In other words, “Chimes at Midnight” was seen as a bloated piece of hubris, if not a relic from a bygone era. Reviews at the time weren’t kind, with the expected kiss-of-death from now-notorious New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, and a mostly expected defense from Andrew Sarris. “I firmly believe that the massive passions of ‘Chimes at Midnight’ will long outlive the miniature pageantries of ‘A Man for All Seasons,’” Sarris wrote at the time.