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The Orson Welles File – Part 3

The Orson Welles File - Part 3

Onward through
all the Orson Welles pictures I saw and kept cards on for my 1952-1970 movie
file, films OW either directed, produced, wrote, or acted in; the latter
category, unfortunately, dominates, since he directed so few movies of his own.
Parts 1 and 2 already carry most of them, though here we have The Trial, my least favorite of Welles’
major works.

Orson was such a disarming person that in our first meeting, late
in 1968, I actually had the nerve to tell him that the only picture of his I
really like was The Trial, and he
said, with gusto, “I don’t either!” Wow, I thought I had scored. Three
months later, when I once said something derogatory about The Trial, Welles said, “I wish you’d stop saying that!”
I protested:

“But you told me it wasn’t a film you liked.”
Orson shook his head, “I just said that to please you. Actually it’s
one of my favorites, and since I have great respect for your opinions, whenever
you denigrate it, you diminish my small treasure…” I said, “Oh, Jesus, Orson, I’m
sorry! It certainly is a fascinating work, it’s just… “Welles jumped in: “That’s
all right, we can change the subject.” From then on, he always referred to The Trial as “That picture you
As is clear below, that wasn’t really true at all.

On a different occasion, Orson told me that perhaps I didn’t see all the humor in the picture: “Tony Perkins and I were laughing uproariously throughout, he said, as is proven by the photo above.

JOURNEY INTO FEAR (1942; d: Norman Foster, uncredited: Orson

1961: Fair (This often amusing foreign intrigue melodrama has
some striking Wellesian ideas and images, but not nearly enough; clearly he did
not direct most of it, or cut any of it. Whenever he is on, as a legendary
Turkish police chief, the camera takes an excitingly unexpected turn, but the
rest of the time, there is only the hint of his presence lurking behind the
camera, never really asserting itself in a personal way. The Mercury Players
are quite good without their leader, but certainly in no way inspired; nor is
any of the movie.)

DAVID AND GOLIATH (1961; d: Richard Pottier, Ferdinando Baldi).

1961: Poor (Only people who could possibly sit through this
incredibly bad picture are Orson Welles fanatics: he plays King Saul – badly,
self-indulgently, disinterestedly and fascinatingly. His presence alone, not
his acting, make the film at all tolerable. But, even despite that, it is
pretty much of a struggle to sit through.)

KING OF KINGS (1961; d: Nicholas Ray; narrator: Orson Welles).

1961: Good* (Terribly acted, but strikingly photographed and
extremely well directed and written political drama set in Biblical times: about
the conflicting influences of Jesus, who was for victory through peace and
martyrdom, and Barabbas, who was for victory through war and strife. Remarkably
conceived, often perverse, powerful anti-religious work, marred by
over-reverent, sappy musical scoring imposed by Metro, over-shadowed,
mercifully, by a movingly read narration done by Orson Welles. A truly
fascinating piece of filmmaking.)

PRINCE OF FOXES (1949; d: Henry King).

1961: Poor (I only watched this costume melodrama because of the
presence of Orson Welles who is, as always, worth watching. Unfortunately,
Tyrone Power and Wanda Hendrix aren’t, and they have far more

TOMORROW IS FOREVER (1946; d: Irving Pichel).

1962: Fair (Likeable tearjerker about a man thought dead in the
war who returns after his wife has remarried, distinguished mainly by the
brilliance of Orson Welles’ performance. But he gets nice support
from Claudette Colbert, George Brent, Natalie Wood; a pleasantly sad little movie.)

BLACK MAGIC (1949; d: Gregory Ratoff).

1962: Poor* (Orson Welles’ presence and performance as the evil
hypnotist-charlatan Cagliostro enlivened this otherwise deadeningly done 18th
century period piece, badly written, badly directed.)

Added 1969: (Welles’ influence is apparent in some of the scenes,
but it was clearly deleted as much as possible; it is a depressing use of him
and a tedious movie, but it helped to make his Othello possible.)

THE TRIAL (1962; d-s: Orson Welles).

1963: Excellent* (Stunning, frightening and strikingly Wellesian
version of [Franz] Kafka’s nightmarish novel about a young man
accused, convicted and executed for a never-specified crime. Well played,
brilliantly photographed, written, edited, scored. A difficult film to really
like, but a strangely haunting one.)

Added 1963: (An elusive movie that looked better this time, but
it is basically a dead end: Welles has attempted the impossible and succeeded
better than anyone else could. It remains Welles’ most
unlikeable work but a still fascinating one.)

Added 1969: (Welles has magnificently captured the feeling of a
nightmare and the last three reels are as powerful as any of his work. The
picture succeeds in everything it attempts to do, but it is in no way an
enjoyable experience. Nightmares seldom are.)

Added 1969: (I still can’t like this movie and find it Welles’ least
memorable work).

Added 1970: (I’m liking it a littler better.)

LAFAYETTE (1961: d: Jean Dreville).

1963: Poor- (An hour and fifteen minutes was all I could take of
this two-hour epic; abysmally boring, totally incompetent, except for some nice
color-photography by Claude Renoir. Orson Welles makes a brief appearance as
Ben Franklin, which is why I even went to see this junk, and he’s
pretty good too, making sure there is always light on his face and no shadows.)

ROGOPAG (1962; d: Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Ugo
Gregoretti, Pier Paolo Pasolini).

1963: Fair- (That is an overall rating, actually the episodes
break down this way: Rossellini’s is far and away the best, brief, to
the point, witty, and thoroughly expert; Godard’s is next, though
it is decidedly unpleasant and completely perverse, it retains his personality
and has an edge, minor as it is; Gregoretti’s is
undistinguished but pleasant and excellently acted; Pasolini’s
is pretty awful, to the extent that Orson Welles’ voice
has been dubbed by some prissy Italian, something close to a cardinal sin.)

MAN IN THE SHADOW (1957; d: Jack Arnold).

1963: Poor (Generally worthless, awkward melodrama set in the
South: ranch baron terrorizes small community until fearless sheriff incites
the town to revolt. Orson Welles plays the villain, but without any of his
usual bravura, and thus the film loses whatever small interest it might have

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Mr. Sir

The irony of Mr. Bogdanovich describing someone as "prissy" is a wonderful thing. The man wears ascots. Often.

Vallean Mann

Thanks for projecting your critique … I look forward to it.

Ronald Payne

Dorothy Holmes, who passed away awhile back, was a great friend of mine, and a friend to both Orson Welles and her employer, Rita Hayworth. I met Dorothy one afternoon when my car broke down very suddenly and unexpectedly in Virginia, and I took to foot in search of a good garage. Dorothy, whom I had never met, stopped her car and offered me assistance. When I asked why she would pick up a total stranger, she answered: "Because you reminded me of Orson Welles. You look like him. And, now that you're in the car, you even sound like him. I told her I was a writer, and that I loved 'Citizen Kane.' (2.) She told me about the night Mr. Welles first appeared to her at Rita's house. "He was so large, " Dorothy said, and there he stood in the front door, wearing a tuxedo with tennis shoes, and a portable typewriter in his left hand. (3.) "He said he knew where his bedroom was, and asked if I could prepare two steaks for breakfast, a dozen eggs, and a full loaf of sliced toast. We became great buddies, after that first meal was served. I will never forget the night he almost burned down Miss Rita's house. He fell asleep beside that portable typewriter and dropped his lit cigar into the waste paper basket. Scared the living dickens out of all of us. He later proclaimed gleefully that he had been 'writing a really hot screenplay' that night and was on a roll.' I asked Mr. Orson if the roll was a jelly roll or a plain buttered one. He took off his reading glasses and called me a smart ass, laughing the whole time. He was fun to be around…"

Chris Pangborn

Every once in awhile I take a gander at Journey into Fear in hopes it is better than it turned out to be. But, alas, it never really catches fire. I guess Welles was too distracted with Ambersons and It's All True to give it enough attention. Eric Ambler deserved better. The Warners version of Mask of Dimitrios is wonderful—it's hard to go wrong with Greenstreet and Lorre. The Trial looks better today than it probably did in the early 1960s. Some of the opening sequences in and around K's apartment are fantastic. I'm glad the film exists, even if it isn't top shelf Welles.

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