The Tragedy of Macbeth (1971)

R | 139-140 mins | Drama | December 1971

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HISTORY

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 Jun 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 ... More Less

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 Jun 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 Feb 1971, HR 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 Jul 1971 Var 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 9 Aug 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 Jan 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 Nov 1970 Var article stated that the script had been approved by the PCA before shooting began. As noted in the Var review, the film was edited to obtain an R rating for its world premiere in America. It opened in New York on 20 Dec 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. HR reported in Sep 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 . More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
10 Jan 1972.
---
Filmfacts
1971
pp. 730-32.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Nov 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Nov 1970
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Feb 1971.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Apr 1971
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Dec 1971.
p. 3, 15.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jan 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Sep 1973.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
14 Dec 1971.
---
Los Angeles Times
15 Dec 1971.
---
New York Times
28 Feb 1971.
---
New York Times
21 Dec 1971
p. 51.
Newsweek
10 Jan 1972.
---
Show
Jun 1971
pp. 24-28.
Time
25 Jan 1971.
---
Variety
4 Nov 1970.
---
Variety
14 Jul 1971.
---
Variety
15 Dec 1971
p. 14.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
Roman Polanski's Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d unit dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Asst exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATOR
Set dresser
COSTUMES
Ward coord
MUSIC
Mus [performed] by
SOUND
Sd mixer
Dubbing ed
Dubbing mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Process consultant
Spec eff
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Chief makeup artist
Chief hair stylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Artistic adv
Prod adv
Horse master
Casting
STAND INS
Fight dir
by kind permission of the National Theatre of Great Britain
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare (London 1605-06, published 1623).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Macbeth
Release Date:
December 1971
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 15 December 1971
New York opening: 20 December 1971
Production Date:
early November 1970--early April 1971 in Wales and at Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, Middlesex, England
Copyright Claimant:
Playboy Productions, Inc. and Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
Copyright Date:
19 December 1971
Copyright Number:
LP40479
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Todd-AO 35
Duration(in mins):
139-140
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
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 ... +


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. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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