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The Orson Welles File - Part 3

Peter Bogdanovich By Peter Bogdanovich | Peter Bogdanovich June 15, 2014 at 4:11PM

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. Though here we have The Trial, my least favorite of Welles’ major works.
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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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