The Orson Welles File – Part 4

The Orson Welles File - Part 4

Back to all the
Orson Welles movies I saw between 1952 and 1970, and the comments on them which
I kept in

my movie card-file. Unfortunately, very few of the pictures left were
directed by Welles. Mostly acting or narration credits. Even one classic “Based
on an idea by Orson Welles” in the credits of Charlie Chaplin’s
Monsieur Verdoux. Orson used to kid
around, saying that Chaplin didn’t give him that credit until after all
the bad reviews came out! Reading over how I felt about that very picture, I
was surprised by my utter superlatives. I didn’t remember liking it that much. I
haven’t
seen it since. Must check it out sometime. But I do remember being very
impressed with the ending as Charlie played it.

MONSIEUR VERDOUX (1947; d: Charles Chaplin; story idea: Orson
Welles).

1963: Exceptional* (One of the most complex and philosophically
fascinating movies ever made, and certainly Chaplin’s most incisive
statement about the present human condition, in which murder is the logical
extension of business. Unsurpassable performance by Chaplin, strikingly, wisely
written, magnificently directed, this story of a bluebeard ranks among the
finest films in cinema, and certainly among the most personal.)

THE V.I.P.S (1963; d: Anthony Asquith)

1963: Fair (This isn’t so much a movie as it is a series of
arias, some good, some not so good; it might also be called star-gazing. A
bunch of prominent people are fog-bound at a London airport, their lives intermingle,
etc. Liz Taylor looks awful but acts a bit better than as Cleopatra,
Burton is excellent, Margaret Rutherford is classic, Elsa Martinelli is almost
embarrassing, Louis Jourdan is surprisingly good, Rod Taylor and Maggie Smith
are fine, and Orson Welles does a splendid imitation of Akim Tamiroff. Mr.
Asquith has mixed them all together and made a slick, silly, entertaining
movie.)

THE BLACK ROSE (1950; d: Henry Hathaway).

1964: Poor* (Trite, predictable period piece, set in the 13th
century, about a Saxon who leaves the Norman England, and joins a Mongol chief
in his war against the Chinese. Only Orson Welles as the Bayan general brings
life and excitement to an otherwise listless, if not offensive, yarn.)

THE FINEST HOURS (1964; d: Peter Baylis; narrator: Orson Welles).

1964: Fair- (Generally interesting, never particularly memorable,
documentary on the life of Winston Churchill,
author-statesman-politician-painter-maker of history: done through the use of
newsreel footage and recently filmed color sequences, told through Churchill’s
own words and a narration, eloquently spoken by the voice of the
century, Orson Welles.)

THREE CASES OF MURDER (1954; d: Wendy Toye; David Eady; George
More O’Ferrall).

1965: Fair- (A pretty undistinguished British omnibus film, the
first two stories of which are indifferently acted and directed, though the
first has a faint bit of imagination, while the second is totally worthless. In
the third, however, Orson Welles plays the title role of [Somerset] Maugham’s
haunted, guilt-ridden British peer [Lord
Mountdrago]
, and suddenly things come alive; he is amusing and outrageous
and spellbinding; the direction is at least brisk and shows that in spots he
much have interfered, certainly in the pacing of the scenes if nothing else.
What a delightful performer he is, wasteful though it is for him, considering
his genius.)

TROUBLE IN THE GLEN (1954; d: Herbert Wilcox).

1965: Poor (Shameless and incompetent imitation of Ford’s The Quiet Man set in Scotland instead of Ireland, without
charm or interest, except for the presence and performance of Orson Welles as a
wealthy, stubborn Laird returned to his native land after years in South
America. He tells the story and has a few brisk, fast-paced scenes full of
over-lapping dialogue and interruptions, especially one with Margaret Lockwood
as his daughter, and provides the film’s sole diversions, and they are too
brief to make any lasting impression or to affect the picture’s
overall ineffectualness.)

THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH (1956; d: Orson Welles).

1965: Very good (Winner of the 1958 Peabody Award, this 27-minute
film was a pilot for a proposed series which Welles would host and supervise;
it was not bought, nor shown for two years. It is really a splendid work for
television, imaginatively utilizing stills, stylized for simple sets, music and
on-screen narration, as well as acted vignettes to tell a light but compelling
little story about a man who uses a bogus youth-potion to win back a girl who
has married another. Delightful period flavor, a fine example of what can be
done with scant means and great talent.)

Added 1969: (Really a charming work, the first film ever made
especially for television as opposed to just a TV movie; beautiful performances
– just the right amount of stylization – totally directed. A marvelous piece,
completely unorthodox but never for it’s own sake.)

Added 2014: My rating now would be Excellent* because its
preciousness is more apparent: what a glorious series it could have been! Orson
on camera and voiceover telling the story with stills, style, magic. If you see
it now, it still seems revolutionary, a path that TV never really took. Maybe no one but Orson Welles could have pulled it off. But they had Orson Welles.

LUCY MEETS ORSON WELLES (1956; d: James V. Kern).

1965: Fair (Pleasant little 27-minute segment of the filmed
television series, I Love Lucy, in
which Lucy tries to get Orson Welles to play Shakespeare with her at a benefit;
some amusing moments, especially due to Orson’s light touch in
the farcical style; Lucille Ball, as usual, is excellent.)

Added 2014: This is actually more fun than I’ve
indicated. Welles was terrific playing a version of himself, kidding himself,
as he did as far back as 1940 on radio’s The
Jack Benny Program.
At the time, however,
it was not considered chic, and didn’t help Welles’ reputation among
the intellectual Establishment. Ironically, Orson was among the first to
champion Lucille Ball, trying in the late ‘30s to cast her in the lead of a film
he never got to do, a light thriller, The
Smiler with A Knife.
And now he was playing opposite her in the most iconic
of TV comedies, shot in the same studio as Citizen
Kane
, but now owned by Lucille Ball. Her company had also financed the pilot
for Welles’ proposed series (see above, The Fountain of Youth).

MISS GOODALL AND THE WILD CHIMPANZEES (1965; d: Marshall Flaum;
narrator: Orson Welles).

1965: Poor* (Uninspired and rather academic, stagey documentary
made by the National Geographic Society and shown on television, about Jane
Goodall’s zoological research among the wild Chimpanzees of Africa,
and her findings which proved that they are “the most nearly
human of all animals on earth” because of unusual method of making tools,
one of the first signs of man. Distinguished by Welles’ persuasive
voice, but by little else.)

IS PARIS BURNING? (PARIS BRULE-T-IL?) (1966; d: Rene Clement).

1966: Good- (In many ways, a most effective picture of Paris in
the last days of the Nazi occupation, graphically directed, made with
considerable feeling and a great deal of authenticity; the script, however, is
very confusing in its political machinations, and the poor dubbing of the
foreign players does not help; nor does the excessive size of the projection,
out of all proportion to the screen-size for which Clement obviously made it.
No one really stands out in the cast, though Orson Welles makes a likable
appearance, as does Tony Perkins. What is best is Clement’s
documentary, harshly lit quality in that the action sequences carry particular
conviction and impact; interesting throughout, and often more than that, though
by no means exceptional.)

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Comments

Karen

The truth is that Orson could have really been the king if he hadn’t been so damn fat.

William

I'm enjoying your blog posts, Mr. Bogdanovich. Thank you for making them available. And, of course, I enjoy your commentary and work in general. I find you very insightful–especially your commentary on The Rules of the Game.
Orson had a life-affirming presence–at least on talk shows and in interviews. It seems all the roadblocks and false starts that come with being a true independent filmmaker never got the best of him. Is this true or was he more morose than he let on behind the scenes?

Lucien

"Spots he must have interfered" – were you thinking of the nightclub sequence, or some other scene?

Lucien

"Spots he must have interfered" – were you thinking of the nightclub sequence, or some other scene?

Chris Pangborn

Even if Chaplin pinched the Verdoux idea from Welles he made a deliciously wicked movie out of it, one of his best. Chaplin can be a little insufferable but it took courage to break from his public and persona to make a film like this. Peter, I think we'd all like to get your updated take on Verdoux.

Dave

Fountain of Youth was such an obscure, little-known work for so long — I’m curious as to where you saw it in 1965 and 1969?

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