Based on Shakespeare's play: As Venice welcomes their victorious general, Othello the Moor, back to the city, some of them are waiting for Othello to choose his new lieutenant, while others are busy courting the popular Desdemona, the daughter of a Senator. Othello chooses the loyal Cassio as his lieutenant, arousing bitter jealousy in Iago, another soldier, who vows to scheme against his general. That same night, Othello elopes with Desdemona. Othello is soon sent to Cyprus to repel a Turkish invasion, and he arranges for Iago and his wife to bring Desdemona with them to Cyprus. When Iago's wife learns of a treasured handkerchief that Othello gave to Desdemona, this provides Iago with an idea that he hopes will destroy Othello by provoking him to jealousy. Written by
I like this adaptation of Shakespeare's play, mostly for the performances by two of Weimer Germany's greatest screen actors, Emil Jannings as Othello and Werner Krauss as Iago. There are many alterations to the original text in addition to the expected truncation. Director Dimitri Buchowetzki achieves a good pacing out of it. Lotte Eisner (author of "The Haunted Screen") says the language is naïve, but I don't consider that very important in a silent film. There are plenty of better ways to get that if one wants. For a silent film especially, visually adapting the play is essential.
Visually, the film has survived well over the years. The photography is crisp. The sets look nice, as well. They're studio built, which is a convenience in controlling lighting, but they're not exceptional, nor used very effectively. One of the better-filmed moments is when the sets are blacked out during the dramatic dénouement. Jannings and Krauss, who both came from the stage, compensate for many of the shortcomings, though. In moor makeup, Jannings again demonstrates his versatility, and he gives a strong performance. But, I think Krauss steals the show; he is thoroughly dastardly, with tights and occasional dance-like movements, and his character directs the plot throughout. This film was worthwhile for me because of those two performances.
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