Based on Shakespeare's tragedy, at his wife's urging, a Scottish noble assassinates the king and tries to retain power with more murders.
Witches make incantations and hail Macbeth (Orson Welles) as thane of Cawdor, saying he will be king. Ross tells Macbeth he is thane of Cawdor. Macbeth tells Banquo (Edgar Barrier) the witches predicted his sons will be kings. Lady Macbeth gets a letter and prays to be made strong. The thane of Cawdor is beheaded as a traitor, and Lady Macbeth welcomes her husband, the new thane of Cawdor. She urges him to kill King Duncan (Erskine Sanford) and puts a drug in a drink. Macbeth thinks of a dagger. He tells his wife he won't do it, but she persuades him. Macbeth goes and comes back, saying he did it. Macbeth feels bad and refuses to take the daggers back, and so Lady Macbeth takes them. She says they can wash away the blood.
Macduff (Dan O'Herlihy) arrives and discovers that Duncan was murdered. Duncan's son Malcolm (Roddy McDowall) asks who did it. Macbeth says it was the guards, and he killed them. Malcolm and Macduff flee to England. Banquo suspects Macbeth and says he is king as predicted. Macbeth tells his wife that Banquo's sons will be kings, not his. She calls him to bed, but he fears he murdered sleep.
Macbeth wears a crown and blames Malcolm and Macduff. Macbeth invites Banquo to a feast, and he drinks. Privately Macbeth orders two men to murder Banquo and his son. They ambush them and stab Banquo, but his son Fleance (Jerry Farber) escapes. They report what happened to Macbeth.
At the banquet Macbeth toasts Banquo and wishes he were there. Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost and talks to him. Lady Macbeth makes excuses for him and tells people to leave. Macbeth calls upon the witches, who warn him about Macduff and assure him he is safe until Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane. Lady Macduff (Peggy Weber) is warned to flee, and Macbeth has her children killed.
Malcolm and Macduff have gained military support in England. Ross tells Macduff that his wife and all his children were slaughtered. Malcolm urges Macduff to fight. Malcolm and Macduff lead an army from England.
Macbeth clings to the prophecy that no one born of woman can harm him, but he learns the army is coming. A doctor tells Macbeth that his wife is mentally ill. Macduff orders his army to take branches from the forest. A gentlewoman and the doctor watch Lady Macbeth walk in her sleep trying to clean her hands as she relives the murder. After Macbeth kisses her, she screams and runs away. Lady Macbeth jumps off a high cliff. Macbeth is told and despises life. A messenger tells him that Birnam wood is coming.
Macbeth commands his army to advance. Macbeth fights with Macduff, who says he was untimely ripped from the womb. Macduff kills Macbeth and proclaims Malcolm king of Scotland.
This violent drama of ambition run amuck reflects the
cruel struggles for power that occurred in primitive cultures
where power was taken and held by brutal force. Yet people sensed
that spirits live beyond death, and one cannot escape the consequences
of one's actions.