Citizen Kane 1941 Wunderkind Orson Welles is producer, co-screenwriter (with Herman Mankiewicz), director, and star. A quasi- biopic inspired by Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. Upon its release, Hearst prohibited mention of the film in his newspapers. Also with Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorhead, Ruth Warrick, Everett Sloan.
“Rosebud,” the final word of infamous publishing magnet Charles Foster Kane (Welles) raises a feeding frenzy of conjecture. Reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland) sets out to discover its meaning by interviewing Kane’s alcoholic wife, so-called friends, and business associates. His story is told in flashback.
When a gold mine is discovered on the Kane’s poor, Colorado property, his mother sends young Charles to be raised elsewhere. Gaining control of his trust fund at 25, he goes into the newspaper business, establishing an influential empire. Business practices are ruthless, articles sensationalist, politics conservative. Fabulously wealthy, he builds Xanadu = The Hearst Castle, installs (imprisons) his no-talent vocalist wife, and holds vast celebrity parties in order to show off. In truth, he’s alienated everyone, dying alone and friendless.
Thought to be one of the best films of all time by the film community. Worth seeing for script, direction and cinematography as well as acting. Free on Netflix, rent on Amazon Prime
The Magnificent Ambersons 1942. Produced, directed and adapted by Orson Welles from Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel. While he was working elsewhere, the studio cut over an hour out of this film without Welles’ participation, leaving him justifiably furious and bitter. The footage was destroyed. Even as it is, the story of a Midwestern town, a family, and social changes provoked by the automobile age, is as much a valentine to the turn of the century as it is a psychological melodrama.
Young inventor Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotton) courts rich Isabel Amberson (Dolores Costello). They’re in love. When he inadvertently embarrasses her in public, however, she marries the stolid Wilbur Minafer (Don Dillaway). Her sister in law, Fanny (Agnes Moorehead – terrific!) pines for the rejected suitor but he leaves town. The Minafer’s only child, George (Tim Holt), grows up a spoiled hellion.
Eugene returns to town a widower with smart, attractive daughter, Lucy (Anne Baxter). George makes a beeline for her. She at first rejects him, then dares to hope for change. Wilber loses his money and then dies. Meanwhile Eugene gets rich investing in automobile production. He again courts Isabel, who leans toward him like a reed in the wind. George’s class conscious objections stop his mother’s marriage. He takes her abroad, only to have Isabel fall ill and die upon returning home….Not a happy ending. Wonderful film. Rent on Amazon Prime or Netflix
The Stranger 1946 Directed by and starring Orson Welles. War crimes investigator, Mr. Wilson – oddly, no first name (Edward G. Robinson) – tracks Nazi criminal Franz Kindler (Welles) to Harper, Connecticut. Kindler is now a respected prep school teacher living under the name, Charles Rankin. He’s about to marry Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), daughter of a Supreme Court Justice (Philip Merivale). Rankin thinks he’s murdered the only man who could expose him.
Wilson tries to convince Mary of the truth. He shows her horrible images of the camps. (This is the first Hollywood film to present real, documentary footage.) She’s understandably afraid. Rankin plots to kill her before suspicions are made vocal. An attempt is foiled, but now his fiancé knows. She confronts him in a church clock tower (great cinematography), but before he can kill her, Wilson appears. There’s a struggle. A gun goes off. Unadulterated noir. Free on Netflix or on Amazon Prime
The Lady From Shanghai 1947 Based on Sherwood King’s novel If I Die Before I Wake. Directed by and starring Orson Welles with his estranged wife, Rita Hayworth, Everett Sloan. Sailor Michael O’Hara (Welles) rescues femme fatale Elsa (Hayworth) from robbers in the park. Her rich husband, Arthur Bannister (Sloan), gives Michael a job on his yacht. Bannister’s business partner Grisby (Glenn Anders) then offers to pay the sailor to fake Banister’s death. Michael agrees intending to run away with Elsa.
A private detective hired by Bannister learns that Grisby intends to murder him. Instead, Grisby is shot. Michael is framed. Bannister defends him, but now knows about his wife’s infidelity. Nothing, of course, is as it seems. The last shoot out in a hall of mirrors is famous for its overcoming technical issues to emerge stunning. More noir. “Maybe I’d forget her. Maybe I’d die trying.” Famous last words. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Third Man 1949 Directed by Carol Reed, written by Graham Greene from his novella. Featuring Trevor Howard. Writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) arrives in post Second World War Vienna to accept a job with childhood friend, Harry Lime (Welles) only to discover he’s dead. At the funeral, he meets military police and friends who say they were on the scene, but have conflicting stories.
Martins goes to see Harry’s girlfriend, actress Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli). Further investigation reveals that Lime had a black market racket. Suspicions arise that he was murdered. The writer is threatened. Lime’s coffin disinterred – he’s not in it.
Lime gets in touch Martins once again extending a job offer. When he discovers the harm Lime’s diluted penicillin is doing, the writer agrees to help police. The old friends meet. Rationalization, promises, lies, gun fire. A chase and a dramatic ending. More noir. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Othello – (Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice) 1951 Directed, produced and adapted (down to 90 minutes) by Orson Welles. With Micheal MacLiammoir, Robert Coote, Suzanne Cloutier, Michael Laurence, Fay Compton. Filmed over three intermittent years of financial difficulty, the shoot is detailed in MacLiammoir ‘s book Put Money in Thy Purse. In 1992, Welles’ daughter, Beatrice Welles-Smith, supervised restoration work objected to by film historians. The epic shrunk by necessity to highly focused. Whatever you think about production, Welles excels. Rent on Netflix
Chimes at Midnight 1965 Directed and starring Orson Welles. Text from five Shakespeare plays are combined to focus on the recurring character John Falstaff (Welles) whose father-son relationship with Henry IV’s son, Prince Hal (Keith Baxter), forces the young man to choose between the king and his mentor. John Gielgud plays Henry. Also with Jean Moreau and Margaret Rutherford. Historically complicated, but clear in terms of torn loyalties and superb acting. For those who like the history plays.
Welles has been repeatedly compared to Falstaff. Chimes at Midnight derives from Henry IV, Part 2, where in response to Justice Shallow’s reminiscing of their long-past school days, Falstaff states: “We have heard the chimes at midnight…” Rent on Amazon Prime
F for Fake 1973 A docudrama directed, co-written by and starring Orson Welles. The career of infamously successful art forger Elmyr de Hory serves as an axis for Welles’ examination of the nature of authorship and authenticity, the worth of expert opinions, and the intrinsic as opposed to market value of art. Featuring de Hory, his granddaughter Oda Kodar, Welles’ longtime companion and earlier, a Picasso model, and Clifford Irving who went on to write the false biography of Howard Hughes.
Welles, who was also a pretty fair magician, began his own career by convincing Dublin’s Abbey Theatre that he was a well known British thespian. These questions were lifelong.
A bit of a mishmash, but terrific fun while raising some provocative issues. We spend time with de Hory living the good life in Ibiza, actually watch the forger create credible work as if by some very famous artists, meet Irving and explore his story…Welles ducks in and out. Kodar is photogenic. Rent on Amazon Prime or Netflix
There are more, of course
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