Cast & Crew
In the late sixteenth century, Othello, a Moor who is the leading general in Venice, elopes with Desdemona, the only daughter of influential senator Brabantio. Othello's ensign, Iago, witnesses the secret ceremony, and jealous that Othello has promoted Michael Cassio to the position of his lieutenant instead of Iago, alerts Brabantio. The elderly senator is horrified and rushes to the palace to demand justice. There, the senator discovers that the duke is already seeking Othello, because the Turks are about to invade the Venetian garrison at Cyprus and Othello has been elected to defend it. Othello, accompanied by Desdemona, appears before the duke and the senate, and denies Brabantio's charge that he has bewitched Desdemona. Othello reveals that while he was a guest of Brabantio, he would relate his life story, and Desdemona grew to pity and love him, and he began to return her love. When Brabantio demands that Desdemona state whom she should obey, the self-confident young woman states that she owes her father for her life, but that her ultimate loyalty lies with her new husband. Devastated, Brabantio warns Othello that as she deceived her father, so may Desdemona deceive her husband, but Othello dismisses his concerns. While Othello is being told about his new commission, the proceedings are watched by Iago and his stooge, Roderigo, who is also in love with Desdemona. Although Othello believes that Iago is sincere, Iago is actually scheming to destroy him. After Othello and Desdemona consummate their marriage, Othello leaves Venice to fight the Turks, and Iago escorts Desdemona to the Cyprus garrison. Some time later, Othello arrives at the fortress with news that the Turkish fleet has been destroyed by storms, and is joyously welcomed by Desdemona. After Othello orders a celebration and retires with Desdemona, Iago persuades Cassio, who is supposed to be on watch, to drink with him. Soon Cassio is drunk, and Iago engineers a brawl between Cassio and Roderigo, which wakes Othello. Disappointed that Cassio is drunk and fighting while on duty, Othello demotes him. Later, Iago consoles Cassio, who is distraught that his reputation has been tarnished, and advises him to ask Desdemona to talk to Othello about reinstating him as his lieutenant. Later, Othello and Iago spot Cassio and Desdemona talking, and Iago whispers that he does not like seeing them together. Othello shrugs off Iago's insinuation and, when Desdemona asks him to receive Cassio, genially agrees. Irritated, Iago questions Othello about Cassio's role in his courtship with Desdemona, as Cassio occasionally acted as their go-between. Iago casts aspersions on Cassio's and Desdemona's honesty, and although Othello is reluctant to believe him, he is haunted by Brabantio's warning. Seeing that Othello is upset, Desdemona tries to calm him using the handkerchief that he gave her as a special love token, but he tosses it away and storms off. The handkerchief is retrieved by Emilia, Iago's wife and Desdemona's lady-in-waiting, and despite her misgivings about her husband's motives, Emilia gives him the handkerchief. Iago then goes to Othello, who demands that Iago supply proof that his wife has been unfaithful. Iago spins a tale of hearing Cassio talk in his sleep about his love for Desdemona, then seeing him wipe his face with her handkerchief. Enraged, Othello orders Iago to kill Cassio and appoints Iago as his lieutenant. Iago then tosses the handkerchief into Cassio's room, where it is found by Bianca, Cassio's courtesan. Meanwhile, Desdemona again approaches Othello about Cassio, but when Othello learns that she cannot find her handkerchief, he angrily orders her to leave. Iago then arranges for Othello to eavesdrop as he questions Cassio, supposedly about his affair with Desdemona. Iago actually asks Cassio about Bianca, who is in love with him, much to Cassio's amusement. Hearing only Cassio's laughter, Othello is outraged, especially upon seeing Bianca with Desdemona's handkerchief. Although he is convinced of her betrayal, Othello is still torn by his love for Desdemona until Iago tells him that Cassio confided that he slept with her. Othello has an epileptic fit, and after Iago revives him, Othello muses that he is so crushed that he can no longer function as a soldier. Othello then learns that Lodovico, a messenger from Venice, has arrived with a summons for him to return home, leaving Cassio in charge of Cyprus. When Desdemona states that she is pleased by Cassio's promotion because of her affection for him, Othello misunderstands her innocent comment and strikes her. Soon after, Othello interrupts Desdemona's prayers and accuses her of being a whore. Emilia then comforts the anguished Desdemona, who cannot understand the change in her husband. Meanwhile, Othello asks Iago to procure some poison for him to use on Desdemona, but instead Iago advises him to strangle her in her bed. Iago then goes to the steambaths, where Roderigo, who has been giving Iago jewels to bribe Desdemona, declares that he is returning to Venice, as Desdemona has not returned his affections. Iago, having kept the jewels for himself and hoping for more, convinces Roderigo to remain, telling him that if he kills Cassio, Desdemona and Othello will have to stay at the garrison. Urged on by Iago, the foppish Roderigo attempts to kill Cassio but only wounds him. While Cassio's friends search the baths for the assailant, Iago spots Roderigo hidden beneath the floorboards and stabs him to death. That night, Othello approaches Desdemona as she waits in their bed and, after ascertaining that she has prayed, strangles her, despite her protestations of innocence. Emilia rushes in just as the dying Desdemona asks her to commend her to her "kind lord." The grief-stricken Emilia then cries out that Desdemona was faithful to Othello, and that it was Iago who planted the handkerchief in Cassio's room. Fellow Venetians Montano and Gratiano enter with Iago as Emilia continues telling Othello that he was deceived by Iago, and Iago stabs her. Iago is apprehended by Montano and Gratiano, who bring him before Othello. Othello confesses that he conspired with Iago to kill Cassio, and that he strangled Desdemona. Horrified by what he has done, Othello stabs himself, then staggers to his bedroom, where he clasps Desdemona's body. Asking his friends to speak kindly of him, Othello begs them to describe him as one who "loved not wisely but too well," then dies with Desdemona in his arms.
G. R. Aldo
Maria De Matteis
Before he was even finished editing Macbeth, Welles had left America for Europe, having received a job offer to direct a movie of Cyrano de Bergerac for producer Alexander Korda. When that project collapsed, Welles became a roving actor on the many productions that sprang up on the Continent in the years after World War II. His appearance in The Third Man (1949) would be his most famous, but the one that got Othello started was when he played the hypnotist Cagliostro in Black Magic (1949). The movie was shot in Rome at Scalera Film Studios and, with his usual charm, Welles managed to talk the studio's owner, Mr. Scalera, into backing a quicky production of Othello to be shot in Morocco.
With Black Magic finished, Welles gathered a cast, crew and a detailed screenplay and brought them all to the town of Mogador on the coast of Morocco. And there they waited for the costumes to arrive. As Welles later recounted, "..we got a telegram saying the costumes wouldn't come because they hadn't been completed. A day later, a telegram came saying they hadn't been started. And then a telegram came saying that Scalera had gone bankrupt. So I had a company of fifty people in North Africa and no money."
Usually everyone would have just gone home. Instead Welles emptied out his own bank account and started rolling, improvising costumes and sets. When he finally ran out of funds, he dismissed the cast and crew and took roles in other movies to raise money, then reunited the cast and crew to shoot more footage until the money ran out again. "Three different times I had to close it and go away and earn money and come back, which meant you'd see me looking off-camera left, and when you'd cut over my shoulder, it would be another continent - a year later."
This process went on until the summer of 1951, three years after he'd begun filming. But the trouble was not over yet. The soundtrack was in rough shape and the lack of money for post-production led to a pieced-together soundtrack that was often indistinct. The movie shared the grand prize at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival, but in the United States the movie received mixed reviews, with many critics pointing out the poor audio quality.
Four years after Welles' death in 1985, his daughter Beatrice instigated a restoration project for her father's movie, a project made much easier when the negative and sound elements were discovered in a New Jersey warehouse. Once again four years were spent on Othello, this time just for the restoration. Computers were used to remove film blotches, dialogue was meticulously re-synced to the actors' lips and the musical score was re-recorded with modern sound equipment. The result was released in 1992 to great acclaim, hailed as one of the best adaptations of Shakespeare for the screen. It took forty-four years to do it, but Welles' movie that couldn't be made was finally complete with the power and beauty he had always intended.
Director: Orson Welles
Writers: William Shakespeare adapted by Orson Welles, Jean Sacha
Producer: Orson Welles
Cinematographers: Anchise Brizzi, G. R. Aldo, George Fanto, O. Troiani, R. Fusi
Editors: John Shepridge, Jean Sacha, Renzo Lucidi, William Morton
Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, Alberto Barberis
Cast: Orson Welles (Othello), Michael MacLiammoir (Iago), Suzanne Cloutier (Desdemona), Robert Coote (Roderigo), Michael Laurence (Cassio), Fay Compton (Emilia).
by Brian Cady
Doris Dowling (1923-2004)
Doris Dowling was born on May 15, 1923 in Detroit, Michigan. She showed an interest in acting at a young age, and after a few years of stage work in the Midwest, she joined her older sister, the leading lady Constance Dowling, in Hollywood. Paramount soon took notice of the sultry brunette with the soulful expression and husky voice, and promptly signed her to a contract.
She made a stunning film debut as Gloria, the hooker who befriends Ray Milland at a bar, becoming his good-humored confidante in The Lost Weekend (1945); she followed that up in the overlooked, film noir gem, The Blue Dahlia (1946), playing Alan Ladd's shrewish wife before being killed by a mystery killer in the first reel. She made another noir thriller, the forgettable, The Crimson Key (1947), playing, once again, an unsympathetic part before heading off to Europe. Once there, Italian director Giuseppe de Santis used her effectively in Bitter Rice (1948), arguably her best performance as the jewelry thief hiding among women rice workers in Northern Italy; another notable role was as Bianca in Orson Welles' French production of Othello (1951).
She returned to Hollywood in the late '50s, and spent the next three decades doing television work: Bonanza, Perry Mason, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Barnaby Jones, and The Streets of San Francisco, just to name a few. She retired quietly from acting by the early '80s. She was briefly married to bandleader Artie Shaw (1952-56), and is survived by her son through that marriage, Jonathan; and her husband of 44 years, Leonard Kaufman.
by Michael T. Toole
Doris Dowling (1923-2004)
Although most contemporary and modern sources refer to this film as Othello, the title on the viewed print was The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice, which is the title of the William Shakespeare play. According to information in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, producer-director Orson Welles performed a voice-over narration of the credits in the European version of the picture, while in the American version, they appeared onscreen in written form. The onscreen credits listed above were taken from the 1992 restored print of the picture. The film begins with the funeral processions of "Othello" and "Desdemona" and the imprisonment of "Iago" in a tiny cage that is then lifted above the garrison walls. The title and the statement "A Motion Picture Adaptation of the play by William Shakespeare" then appear onscreen, followed by Welles's offscreen narration introducing the characters of Othello and Desdemona and noting the setting of the action. The rest of the onscreen credits appear after the end of the picture. Although there are no onscreen writing credits, modern sources list Welles and film editor Jean Sacha as the authors of the screen adaptation of Shakespeare's play.
As noted by contemporary reviews, the film had a long and complicated production history. Modern sources state that Welles began production on the picture in the summer of 1948, and Hollywood Reporter news items reported that it was completed in 1951. According to a modern interview with Welles, the film was originally to have been backed by Montatori Scalera, an Italian producer, but Scalera abandoned the project after declaring bankruptcy. Welles accepted several acting jobs in other films in order to finance the production of Othello, which was interrupted frequently due to lack of funds and the commitment of the actors to other projects.
According to an May 8, 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, the role of Desdemona was re-cast three times, and even a fourth actress, "a Moroccan beauty," was used for "rear views." Modern sources state that the first Desdemona hired by Welles was Italian actress Lea Padovani, but that after Welles ran out of money and had to shut down production, Padovani accepted other work and was unavailable when Welles was ready to resume Othello. According to one modern source, Welles then asked former Mercury Theatre player Agnes Moorehead to play Desdemona, but she was also committed to other projects. A March 6, 1992 New York Times article stated that Welles was then interested in having Betsy Blair play the part, and that Cécile Aubrey actually filmed some scenes as Desdemona before being replaced by Suzanne Cloutier. Although modern sources give conflicting information about whether Blair or Aubrey filmed some scenes or were merely approached by Welles about playing the role, Blair states in her autobiography that she did film some sequences and can even be seen briefly in a shot on the castle ramparts. She was not recognized in the viewed print, however. Blair also asserts that the first Desdemona cast by Welles was his then-girl friend, Valentina Cortese, but that she was released from the production after Welles ended their personal relationship. Blair notes that she left the film when Welles had to shut down production temporarily due to financial constraints. In a modern interview, Cloutier notes that after spotting her in a French film being shown at the Venice Film Festival in 1949, Welles cast her as Desdemona and put her under a personal seven-year contract.
According to the 1992 New York Times article, "the first Iago was an Italian actor whose name no one seems to remember." He was succeeded by Everett Sloane, who, according to modern sources, grew tired of the erratic production schedule and quit. In early 1949, Sloane was replaced by Micheál MacLiammóir, who first met Welles when the teenaged Welles applied to the famed Gate Theater in Dublin, of which MacLiammóir was a co-founder. MacLiammóir, who made his feature-film debut in Othello, wrote a book about the filming of the picture entitled Put Money in Thy Purse: The Diary of the Film of "Othello" (London, 1952). The book consists of MacLiammóir's diary entries while the film was in production.
On May 31, 1951, Hollywood Reporter noted that Welles was in London doing theater and radio work "in order to make some dough to pay for the processing" of Othello. Because the dialogue was "shot wild," according to a March 1992 Village Voice article, it was not usable and had to be dubbed in later, and Welles himself provided the voice of "Roderigo." An April 1992 LA Weekly article asserted that Cloutier's voice was dubbed by actress Gudrun Ure, who appeared as Welles's Desdemona in his 1951 London theatrical production of Othello. In August 1951, Welles told Hollywood Reporter that he had completed paying for and now owned outright his film version of the play, even though it had gone "way over the original budget" during shooting.
As noted by contemporary sources, the picture was filmed largely in Mogador, Morocco, where a sixteenth-century, Portuguese-built fortress was used for the garrison at Cyprus, with some sequences shot in Venice, Italy. Modern sources list Rome, Tuscany, Viterbo, Perugia, Torcello and Orgete, Italy, and Mazagan and Safi, Morocco as other location sites.
On May 10, 1952, the film, which was entered as a Moroccan production, screened at the Cannes Film Festival. According to an May 8, 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was originally to be presented at Cannes in 1951, but Welles withdrew it due to "some sour sound defects." Although Othello tied with the Italian production Due soldi di speranza for the Grand Prize at Cannes, it did not open in the United States until June 1955. On June 13, 1952, Hollywood Reporter announced that RKO had obtained a "verbal agreement" to distribute the picture in the U.S., but it was instead distributed in America by United Artists.
The picture received mixed reviews in the U.S., with many critics lauding Welles's innovative approach to the material but stating that it would probably be limited to "art house" bookings. Numerous reviews mentioned the poor sound quality. Bosley Crowther of New York Times complained that MacLiammóir's Iago was "almost impossible to understand." The Variety reviewer commended the sequence in which Roderigo was murdered in a Turkish bath, which has become one of the picture's most highly praised sequences. According to modern sources, the actors' costumes for the sequence, which was to have been staged in a different way, had not arrived yet, and Welles therefore decided to set it in the bathhouse so that the actors [other than MacLiammóir, whose costume had arrived in time] would have to wear only towels.
As noted by the film's pressbook, Joan Fontaine and Joseph Cotten, who were in Italy to film September Affair in 1949 (see ^AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ), made very brief cameo appearances in Othello as a favor to Welles. Cotten appeared heavily disguised as a Venetian senator and Fontaine dressed as a boy to play his page. According to an January 18, 1998 Los Angeles Times article, Fontaine sued Blockbuster Entertainment "for invasion of privacy," claiming that the company "over-hyped" her walk-on part as a feature role. The disposition of the suit has not been determined.
In 1978, Welles was commissioned by two West German television producers to make a documentary about the filming of Othello. Entitled Filming "Othello", the 120-minute movie was intended to be the first in a series of documentaries by Welles about the various pictures he had made. Instead, Filming "Othello", which had a theatrical release in the United States in 1987, was the last film directed by Welles. In its theatrical release, the film ran 90 minutes. The picture, which is also referred to as The Filming of "Othello" and Orson Welles' Filming "Othello" by some sources, featured Welles's 1977 lecture at a Boston College about his experiences with Othello and a dinner-table discussion about the production between Welles, MacLiammóir and Hilton Edwards, who played "Brabantio" and was MacLiammóir's partner at the Gate Theater.
In 1989, Welles's daughter, Beatrice Welles-Smith, approached Intermission Productions, Ltd. about restoring Othello. Although it was believed that the original negatives and other materials had been destroyed or lost, an original nitrate negative, fine-grain duplicate negative, composite optical soundtrack and the music and effects soundtrack were discovered in a New Jersey warehouse belonging to Twentieth Century-Fox. The film's soundtrack was digitally re-recorded and re-mastered, the dialogue re-synched to the actors' performances, the picture quality cleaned up and the music score completely re-recorded by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and members of the Chicago Lyric Opera, under the direction of Michael Pendowski and Robert Bowker. The restoration, distributed by Castle Hill Productions, had its theatrical premiere in 1992, and received sterling reviews. In October 1992, King Hassan II of Morocco led a four-day celebration of the restoration and named a town square in Mogador after Welles.
Numerous film versions of Othello have been produced, including a 1955 Russian feature directed by Sergei Yutkovich and starring Sergei Bondarchuk; a 1964 Russian ballet of the story, directed by Vakhtang Chabukiani and entitled Ballet of Othello; the 1965 English production directed by Stuart Burge and John Dexter and starring Laurence Olivier (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 for the 1964 and 1965 versions); a 1986 American-Italian co-production of Giuseppe Verdi's opera, entitled Otello, which was directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starred Placido Domingo; a 1995 Castle Rock Entertainment picture directed by Oliver Parker and starring Laurence Fishburne; a 2001 British television version, directed by Geoffrey Sax and starring Eamonn Walker, which envisioned Othello as the first black police superintendant in London; and O, a 2001 Lions Gate Films release, directed by Tim Blake Nelson and starring Mekhi Phifer, which presented Othello as a high school basketball champion.
Winner of the Best Director Prize (Camera d'Or) at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.
Released in United States 1960
In English language version Othello is voiced by Howard Marion Crawford, Iago by Arnold Diamond, Desdemona by Kathleen Byron, and Emilia by Nancy Nevinson.
Released in United States 1960