Monday, December 1, 2014


For the past few years I've been compiling lists of Shakespeare references in films, with the intention of publishing a book with as many of these references as possible. Here are a few films that contain references to The Tragedy Of Macbeth.

- Annie Oakley  (1935) with Barbara Stanwyck, Preston Foster. Toby (Preston Foster), upset with Vera over something she said to Annie (Barbara Stanwyck), says “Just bustin’ with the juices of human kindness, ain’t ya?” This is a reference to Lady Macbeth’s line from Act I Scene v: “It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness.”
- Below  (2002) with Matt Davis, Bruce Greenwood, Olivia Williams and Zach Galifianakis; directed by David Twohy.  This ghost story on a submarine during World War II has a Shakespeare reference.  Olivia Williams finds a book on the walkway of the boat.  It's a copy of The Tragedies Of Shakespeare, opened to "Macbeth."  On the first page is the inscription, "Property of Lt. Brice," which leads Olivia to discover a few things. 
- Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)  (2014) with Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts; directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu. A critic has just told Riggan (Michael Keaton) she plans to destroy his play the night before it opens. As he steps out of the bar after this encounter, we hear a voice reciting Macbeth’s famous speech from Act V: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/To the last syllable of recorded time,/And all of our yesterdays have lighted fools/The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!/Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more. It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing.” The voice gets louder and clearer as it goes, until Riggan passes by the man as he finishes the speech. And yes, he does add the word “of” to the line “And all our yesterdays have lighted fools.”
- Black Moon  (1975) with Cathryn Harrison, Joe Dallesandro, Therese Giehse; directed by Louis Malle. This wonderful film has a reference to Macbeth. As Lily (Cathryn Harrison) watches Lily (Joe Dallesandro) bury a body, the unicorn returns. And it says, “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow.” Those, of course, are lines from Macbeth’s famous speech from Act V Scene v. The unicorn then says it’s leaving, and won’t be back for 154 years. Could that be a reference to the number of sonnets?
- The Comedy Of Terrors  (1963) with Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Joyce Jameson, Basil Rathbone; directed by Jacques Tourneur. When Mr. Gillie (Peter Lorre) breaks into a house in order to help Mr. Trumbull (Vincent Price) gain a new client for his funeral business, he hears the intended victim, Mr. Black (Basil Rathbone), reading aloud from The Tragedy Of Macbeth: “Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests./I bear a charmed life, that must not yield/To one of woman born.” He is shown in bed, reading all the parts aloud. When he gets to the sword fight, he leaps out of bed, continuing the play from memory, and grabs an ornamental sword from the wall. He then begins attacking candles and furniture. Later, Mr. Black is entombed without quite being dead. He cries out from the coffin. And then, while still in the coffin, he beings reciting from Macbeth again: “Is this a dagger that I see before me/The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.” He then rises from the coffin, saying lines from two different speeches, first “Macbeth shall sleep no more,” followed by “I have done the deed.” Mr. Black then goes to Trumbull’s home with an axe. He frightens Trumbull’s wife, saying, “Blood will have blood, they say.” (The actual line from the play is “It will have blood, they say. Blood will have blood.”) He then chases Trumbull and Gillie down the hall, hollering “Sleep no more! Macbeth doth murder sleep.” When he breaks into the room where Trumbull and Gillie are hiding, Mr. Black says, “Lay on, Macduff,/And damned be him that first cries, ‘Hold, enough.’” Then, when Trumbull shoots him, Mr. Black says, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/To the last syllable of recorded time.” He then drops to the floor. But no, he’s not yet dead. He rises again to continue the speech: “And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!” He then drops again. And of course he gets up again to continue: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more.” Trumbull interjects, “That I’ll believe when I see it.” Black continues: “It is a tale/Told by an idiot.” He drops again, but of course the speech isn’t quite finished, and so when Trumbull bends down to listen for a heartbeat, Mr. Black continues, “full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing.” He drops once more.  (see also The Comedy Of Errors)

- Elstree 1976  (2016) with David Prowse, Garrick Hagon, Jeremy Bulloch; directed by Jon Spira. This documentary about Star Wars actually contains several Shakespeare references, including two mentions of Macbeth. Paul Blake talks about being offered a role on the series Crossroads and saying: “I couldn’t possibly. I’m a serious actor. I’ve played Hamlet and Macbeth.” Then near the end, as those interviewed are speaking about how Star Wars fits into their overall lives, Paul says, “I’ve played Macbeth.” (see also As You Like It, Richard The Third, Hamlet, Shakespeare) 
- The Exorcist III  (1990)  with George C.Scott, Ed Flanders, Brad Dourif; directed by William Peter Blatty.  In an early scene in the police station, Lt. Kinderman (George C. Scott) says, "Do you know what Macbeth is about? I'll tell you.  It's a play about the numbing of the moral sense."  Then a little later he says, "And the autopsy? When, please?"  The response is, "Tomorrow."  George C. Scott says, "And tomorrow and tomorrow," finishing the line from Act V Scene v.  In a much later scene, Brad Dourif says to George C. Scott, "I like plays. The good ones. Shakespeare. I like Titus Andronicus the best.  It's sweet."  Like in Titus Andronicus, there are decapitations in The Exorcist III.
- Gnomio & Juliet  (2011) with James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Matt Lucas, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Ashley Jensen; directed by Kelly Asbury. This animated film features the tale of Romeo And Juliet as portrayed by garden gnomes and other lawn ornaments.  So while obviously this film is mostly Romeo And Juliet, it does contain references to other Shakespeare plays, including Macbeth. When Juliet opens the gate, a dog is on the other side.  So she slams it shut, shouting, "Out, out."  A man in the distance finished the line for her: "Damn Spot, over here, boy."  Get it? (Macbeth, Act V, Scene 1.) (See also Romeo And Juliet, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, The Tempest.)
- High School Big Shot  (1958) with Tom Pittman, Virginia Aldridge, Howard Veit. The first scene after the opening credits is a classroom scene. On the blackboard behind the teacher, several of Shakespeare’s plays are listed, including Macbeth. (see also Hamlet, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, The Comedy Of Errors, Shakespeare)
- High School High  (1996) with Jon Lovitz, Tia Carrere, Mekhi Phifer, Louise Fletcher; written by David Zucker & Robert LoCash and Pat Proft; directed by Hart Bochner. Richard Clark (Jon Lovitz) is a teacher at an inner city high school. He's trying to reach the kids, make them believe in themselves. He is also trying to improve the neighborhood. The marquee at a strip club now reads, "Live Live Live 'Macbeth' On Stage."  Inside, a stripper is performing Lady Macbeth. She says, "Out, damn spot. Out, I say." She calls for her next line, then continues, "Who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him," as she strikes a sexy pose. The crowd applauds.
- L.A. Story  (1991) with Steve Martin, Victoria Tennant, Richard E. Grant, Marilu Henner, Sarah Jessica Parker; directed by Mick Jackson. This beautiful and magical and hilarious comedy has several references to Shakespeare. The first is a reference to Richard The Second. The second is a reference to Macbeth.  While Harris (Steve Martin) waits for his girlfriend in his car, he tells us this, in voice over: "Sitting there at that moment, I thought of something else Shakespeare said. He said, Hey, life is pretty stupid, with lots of hubbub to keep you busy, but really not amounting to much. Of course, I'm paraphrasing. 'Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'" That line, of course, is from Act V Scene v, and is spoken by Macbeth.  (See also Richard The Second, Hamlet, Shakespeare)

- Nothing Sacred  (1937) with Carole Lombard, Fredric March; directed by William A. Wellman. Wally Cook (Fredric March) has learned that Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard) is not dying after all, that she has been faking her illness. He says his newspaper’s readers should thank them, and goes on: “We gave them a chance to pretend that their phony hearts were dripping with the milk of human kindness.” “The milk of human kindness” is a phrase that Lady Macbeth uses in the first act of Macbeth.

- Romeo & Juliet: Sealed With A Kiss  (2006) with Daniel Trippett, Patricia Trippett; directed by Phil Nibbelink. This version of Romeo And Juliet actually has references to a few other Shakespeare plays, including Macbeth. Near the beginning of the film, as the ocean starts to bubble, signifying the Prince’s entrance, Mercutio quotes from Macbeth (sort of): “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.” Then later, when Romeo goes to see Friar Laurence, there is another reference to Macbeth. The Friar is making a sandwich and says, “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, eye of newt, leg of deep-fried chicken.” (see also As You Like It, Hamlet)
- The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976) with Nicol Williamson, Alan Arkin, Robert Duvall, Vanessa Redgrave, Laurence Olivier, Charles Gray, Jeremy Kemp; written by Nicholas Meyer; directed by Herbert Ross. This film in which Sherlock Holmes meets Sigmund Freud has several Shakespeare references, including one to Macbeth. Sherlock (Nicol Williamson) wakes from a nightmare about a snake. As he recounts an old case to Freud (Alan Arkin), Freud asks, “And you and Dr. Watson, you scotched the snake?” That is a reference to Macbeth’s line in Act III Scene ii: “We have scotch’d the snake, not kill’d it.” Actually, that’s an emendation. The original line is “We have scorch’d the snake, not kill’d it.” I listened to the line in the film several times, and I’m still not certain whether Alan Arkin says “scotch’d” or “scorch’d.” Either way, it’s a reference to Macbeth. (See also King Lear, The Tempest and Shakespeare.)
- A Shot In The Dark  (1964) with Peter Sellers, Elke Sommer, Herbert Lom; directed by Blake Edwards. After there have been two murders in his house, Mr. Ballon says he can’t just fire the maid, who is suspected of the murders, saying she’s given them no cause. His wife exclaims: “Cause! We are up to our necks in dead bodies. What are you waiting for? The last act of Hamlet?” Mr. Ballon replies: “If you’re going to compare the Ballon household with a Shakespearean tragedy, I suggest that Macbeth would be more appropriate.” (see also Hamlet, Shakespeare)
- Something For Everyone  (1970) with Michael York, Angela Lansbury, Jane Carr; directed by Harold Prince.  This wonderful dark comedy has a reference to Macbeth. Near the end of the film Conrad (Michael York) tells Lotte (Jane Carr) not to forget to turn out the lights.  Lotte responds, "Of course not, dear Conrad.  Farewell.  Farewell until we meet again.  In thunder, lightning, or in rain."  The opening lines of Macbeth are, "When shall we three meet again?/In thunder, lightning, or in rain?"  Those lines are, of course, spoken by the first witch.  And in Something For Everyone, Lotte is about to work her own sort of witchcraft on Conrad. 
- Something Wicked  (2014) with Shantel Vansanten, John Robinson, Julian Morris, Brittany Murphy; directed by Darin Scott. This thriller contains several references to Macbeth. Obviously, the film’s title is a reference to Macbeth, specifically to the lines “By the pricking of my thumbs,/Something wicked this way comes.” Then in an early scene at a restaurant, there is a sudden clap of thunder. Ellen Webb (Betty Moyer) takes the opportunity to quote the play’s “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” Christine (Shantel Vansanten), her daughter, recognizes the line and responds, “Macbeth.” Later, When Christine is frightened by a mysterious man at the pool at her university, she rushes out to her car and discovers someone has written a message on her windshield: “There are daggers in men’s smiles.” This is a line Donalbain says to his brother after Duncan’s murder. At night, Christine has a nightmare in which a voice speaks to her, “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” There is also a classroom scene where a disturbed boy named Ryan is learning about Shakespeare. We hear his teacher say: “Next we’ll discuss the supernatural symbolism Shakespeare uses in Macbeth. For example, the witches represent Macbeth’s inner evil. The brutal darkness symbolizes the darkness in Macbeth’s heart and the evil nature of his horrible deeds.” Near the end after deliberately dropping her wedding ring down the drain, Christine looks up to see written on the bathroom mirror, “Something wicked this way comes.” After the credits, there is another scene, where Christine, in a sexy red dress, approaches the camera, saying “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” (See also Romeo And Juliet, The Tempest, Shakespeare)
- Superstar  (1999) with Molly Shannon, Will Ferrell, Elaine Hendrix, Harland Williams, Mark McKinney; directed by Bruce McCulloch. Mary Katherine Gallagher (Molly Shannon) is an awkward girl who at one point drops her books. As she goes to pick them up, we see that one of them is Macbeth.
- Tempest (1982) with John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, Susan Sarandon, Molly Ringwald, Raul Julia, Vittorio Gassman; written by Paul Mazursky and Leon Capetanos; directed by Paul Mazursky. This modern adaptation of The Tempest actually has a reference to Macbeth. It’s always odd when an adaptation of one Shakespeare play refers to another, because if in the world of the film Shakespeare is a known entity, then wouldn’t the characters realize their circumstances were similar to one of his plays? Anyway, Antonia (Gena Rowlands) is returning to the stage. Terry Bloomfield (Paul Mazursky) says the new project is a comedy. And then Paul (Paul Hecht), who is directing the play, says, “It’s sort of a cross between A Chorus Line and Macbeth.” Miranda (Molly Ringwald) says, “We’re studying Macbeth in school. It’s unbelievably boring.”
- The Wolfman  (2010) with Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt; directed by Joe Johnston. This remake of the classic horror film has several Shakespeare references. At one point, an inspector talks to Lawrence Talbot, saying: “I’m not your enemy, Mr. Talbot. But you’ve been seen as Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard the Third, all with that same face.” (see also Hamlet, Richard The Third)

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