Macbeth and Men of Respect

I chose for my rendition of Macbeth that of director William Reilly's 1991 film treatment, "Men of Respect."

Set in present day New York, the various warring kingdoms of the play become organized crime factions, King Duncan becoming the "padrino" or godfather of the main "family," Charlie Di'Mico (played by Rod Steiger.) His chief lieutenant, Mikey Bataglia (John Turturro) is, of course, the corollary to the treacherous Macbeth.

There is so much in this dark, chilling film that one page could hardly do it justice; I would say its most significant aspect is its total loyalty and devotion to the text of the play. The film follows the play scene for scene, at times line for line. Some lines are paraphrased, such as Bataglia's wife (i.e. Lady Macbeth) chiding her husband early on with lines such as "Show a little ambition," and "If I was the man, I'd know what to do." Other lines are brilliantly re-worked for a modern audience, such as Lady Macbeth's "I have given suck" speech (I.IV.54-58), which becomes "I know what it is to have a life inside me and squashing it out because it's too difficult right now..." Replacing the original with a reference to abortion not only provides an analogous line, it also serves to explain her originally unexplained familiarity with maternal feelings.

Not only lines, but props, weapons, every possible component of the play has been updated. Macbeth's letter to his wife in Act I Scene 5 is replaced by a phone call. The hallucinatory dagger which Macbeth sees before him (II.I.33) becomes a vision of blood dripping from the ceiling. Duncan's two chamberlains are revised as two thugs watching the back door of Bataglia's residence (Castle Forres), their coffee (wine) drugged by the attentive lady of the house. The unnerving, incessant knocking at the door of the castle becomes a continual pressing of a doorbell.

Almost all the murders of the play are committed with guns in the movie, save for the murder of Duncan, which is achieved with the use of knives (daggers). This, again, is a nod to the original text. Shortly thereafter, Bataglia emerges, declaring "I did it" ("I have done the deed-" II.II.14). The remainder of the film is a graphic realization of the madness and dissolution to follow. From this point forward, the tension mounts much like the Welles version: The aura of suspicion immediately engulfs the whole atmosphere of kingdom, i.e. organization, as Bataglia and his wife descend into madness. Di'Mico's sons (Malcolm and Donalbain) decide to flee to safer dwellings at the funeral of their father, one saying to the other "There's a gun behind every smile" ("There's daggers in men's smiles" II.VI.138). Later, just prior to the murder of Cuomo (Banquo) one of the murderers laughingly exclaims "He's a ghost!" Before long, the Macduff character ("Duffie," played by Peter Boyle) finds his wife and son murdered by Bataglia. It must be mentioned that all these events are predicted by a mysterious Italian soothsayer, the equivalent of the three witches.

The death of Macbeth is finally achieved by Duffie at the climax of an extended gun battle, wherein it is revealed that the latter was the caesarean progeny of an anonymous whore left abandoned at the door of a hospital. I highly recommend "Men of Respect."

©1996 Patrick Galloway

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