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The Orson Welles File - Part 4

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by Peter Bogdanovich
July 13, 2014 11:30 AM
5 Comments
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Welles and Chaplin
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)

The V.I.P.s still

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).

Three Cases of Murder still

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 poster

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).

Lucy Meets Orson Welles still

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 still

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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5 Comments

  • Chris Pangborn | August 3, 2014 10:02 AMReply

    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.

  • Lucien | July 26, 2014 5:24 PMReply

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

  • Lucien | July 26, 2014 5:24 PMReply

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

  • William | July 19, 2014 12:53 PMReply

    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?

  • Karen | July 14, 2014 11:46 AMReply

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

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