Shakespeare Plays Available in Video Format
Scholars Online Educational Resources


All’s Well That Ends Well
Antony and Cleopatra
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
Henry IV, part 1
Henry IV, part 2
Henry V
Henry VI, part 1
Henry VI, part 2
Henry VI, part 3
Henry VIII
Julius Caesar
King John
King Lear
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Measure for Measure
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Richard II
Richard III
Romeo and Juliet
The Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Winter’s Tale

Available versions

1922: Dimitri Buchowetzki

1952/1955: Orson Welles

1965: Stuart Burge

1981: Jonathan Miller

1981: Frank Melton

1989: Janet Suzman

1990: Trevor Nunn

1995: Oliver Parker

2007: Wilson Milam

2015: Iqbal Khan, Robin Lough


1992: Nikolai Serebryakov (animated)

2001: “O”

2001: Othello

2006: Omkara


2015: Shakespeare Uncovered, Season 2, Episode 3

1952/1955: Orson Welles

This black-and-white film was released twice by Welles, with some substantial modifications between the two versions. Perhaps the most noteworthy change is that the part of Desdemona, played for the camera by Suzanne Cloutier, was vocally dubbed by two other actresses — a different one for each release. Welles was apparently never quite happy with Cloutier’s performance or with either of the two voice actresses. The film even in its longer version (1952) runs only to one hour and thirty-three minutes, while the second is almost exactly an hour and a half; accordingly one must acknowledge that it is massively cut. Even so it is worth watching, especially for those who value the fundamental arts of cinematography and film acting. Welles was one of the geniuses of the medium.

Welles, the enfant terrible of his age after the triumph of Citizen Kane, had made a sequence of less-than-successful films, but had apparently had the hope to do Othello in the back of his mind for some years before managing to pull this one together. It was something of a patched-together affair, but it is made in a masterly way. He takes advantages of Venitian locations at the beginning, and St. Mark’s Cathedral and the Piazza St. Marco are on view.

As noted, the truncation of the film is fairly extreme — more so than any of the others I’ve reviewed so far, and there is a lot that is lost in the subtlety of the original play, which is craggy and full of weird nuances. I would not really recommend this as a first look at the play: there’s just too much missing. At the same time, what is retained is fairly brilliant, and Welles’s handling of a moody black and white is artistry of its own.

Welles, like Anthony Hopkins later, did some adjustment in makeup to convey his Moorishness, but it was a fairly subtle darkening of the skin not at all evocative of the more problematic blackface performance of minstrel-show ignominy. He plays the role with considerable reserve, compared with Hopkins (who starts off reserved but eventually becomes quite wild) and Olivier (whose performance is more noisily emotional throughout, but never quite as hysterical as Hopkins’s toward the end. He brings his unusual gravity of diction to the role, and a very finely tuned ear for the music of the language. He was both principal actor and director, as often in his films, and the coalescence of those two roles insures a uniformity of vision on the one hand, but introduces some practical problems on the other.

Suzanne Cloutier is not, on my consideration, the most interesting actress to essay the role of Desdemona: she was a French Canadian who learned her English late, and she was a model before she took up acting. Even after learning English, she spent some of her acting career in France. When she married Peter Ustinov, she more or less dropped out of theater for many years, and her overall vita contains only a dozen films. She captures a certain frail beauty of the role, but, as noted, her delivery of the lines never entirely satisfied Welles. Her final angst-ridden verbal contest with Othello on the bed just before he kills her is largely omitted or reduced to a few back-and-forth exchanges.

Micheál MacLiammóir is also not the most interesting Iago I have seen: he is somewhat monotonic in his delivery — which is one rational way to play it, but makes him less interesting to watch than the almost giddy admixture of toweringly wicked and curiously playful we get from Kenneth Branagh (Parker, 1995) or Bob Hoskins (Miller, 1981) — which ultimately, I think, enriches the experience. Some of the decisions that affect crafting a character like this are part and parcel of other decisions that have already been made concerning how the script is to be cut. Most of the more complicated parts of Iago’s character are found in those bits of the play that didn’t find their way into the film. MacLiammóir was also apparently somewhat difficult to work with, as he had some mental problems and (at least at one point) believed that he had been afflicted by demonic forces. Such things can add a certain piquancy to a performance, but they can also play hob with a production schedule.

Perhaps as a salute to some of his earlier film affiliations, small parts were given to Joan Fontaine, who played Jane to his Rochester in Jane Eyre (1943) and Joseph Cotten, Welles’s lifelong friend, with whom he worked broadly, especially in Citizen Kane (1941), the Magnificent Ambersons (1942), and The Third Man (1949).

Like many of the movies of its age, the film had fallen into disrepair, and there are some fairly poor releases of it out there. The Criterion Collection got hold of it, however, and was able to clean the image considerably to something approaching its pristine glory. That release is a masterpiece of restoration and resource-collection: the image quality is cleaned up, presenting both the 1952 and the 1955 releases on separate discs, and there is an excellent commentary by Peter Bogdanovich with a filmmaker’s eye directed at the use of imagery in particular, and another disc of supplementary material, including various features on both the making of the films and on the players. If you’re buying the film, the Criterion package is more expensive — but it’s definitely worth it.

Bianca: Doris Dowling

Brabantio: Hilton Edwards

Desdemona: Suzanne Cloutier

Emilia: Fay Compton

Iago: Micheál MacLiammóir

Lodovico: Nicholas Bruce

Michael Cassio: Michael Laurence

Montano : Jean Davis

Othello: Orson Welles

Page-boy : Abdullah Ben Mohamet

Page : Joan Fontaine

Roderigo: Robert Coote

Senator : Joseph Cotten