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The Orson Welles File - Part 3

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by Peter Bogdanovich
June 15, 2014 4:11 PM
6 Comments
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Orson Welles directing The Trial

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 didn't 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 hate." 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 Welles).

Journey Into Fear still
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 screen-time.)

Tomorrow is Forever still

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).
The Trial poster

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).

Rogopag still

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 held.)


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6 Comments

  • Chris Pangborn | August 3, 2014 9:47 AMReply

    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.

  • Ronald Payne | July 15, 2014 6:07 PMReply

    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..."

  • Vallean Mann | June 16, 2014 5:16 PMReply

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

  • Mr. Sir | June 15, 2014 4:19 PMReply

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

  • Alex | June 26, 2014 4:26 PM

    PB. Ha. Thanks for that clarifying comment. I needed a laugh today.

    I'm a long time reader of this blog and a big fan of your work. My wife and I finally had the chance to see Targets the other day and we absolutely loved it. That film obviously deals with a very dark (and sadly prophetic) subject matter. However, one thing that pierced this darkness was what I perceived to be the sheer joy you experienced through the making of this film. I may be reading into something that's not there, as it has been a while since I've read anything about your experiences while making this film, but I just wanted to drop a line to say thank you for Targets and the many other wonderful films you've blessed us with.

    Also, I really do appreciate your overall knowledge and passion for film. Your writing and commentary is largely responsible for my appreciation for film as a true art form. I'm only 30, but I often find myself (at first in jest, but now starting to mean it) sighing the old adage, "They don't make 'em like they used to" after viewing a particularly satisfying John Ford, Lubitsch, Billy Wilder, Hitchcock, etc. film. It's such a wonderful time to be alive during this time where technology has enabled us to have such easy access to beautiful blu-ray versions of so many great films.

    Best wishes and I can't wait to see Squirrels to the Nuts.

  • PB | June 16, 2014 6:55 PM

    Apart from being fresh, Mr. Sir, you are also inaccurate: I never wear ascots (British, generally
    made of silk, and expensive), I do wear bandanas (Western style, generally made of cotton, and inexpensive). I started wearing them in Texas while making "The Last Picture Show," and
    got into the habit.

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