Thank you, Mr Welles

Orson Welles is considered by many to be the greatest film maker in history. I do not necessarily agree with that, although I do consider him to be one of the greatest actors of all time. His voice alone is worth a career, let alone his charismatic presence in a film.

As a very young man, I was captivated by him on film at the cinema, and on TV, when his films were shown there. His brief appearances in ‘The Third Man’, lift the film totally, and his wry grin steals every scene that he is in. Whatever you might think of him, his talent is surely indisputable, and from an early age, he showed the touch of genius that would characterise his life in cinema. The ensemble cast of his best known films, ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’, and ‘Citizen Kane’, was to follow him throughout his all too short film career, and ‘Kane’ is often lauded as the best film ever made. (Although I don’t concur )

Despite his obsession with casting Joseph Cotten, who I have always considered to be at best an average actor, he enjoyed great success with many films; not least the aforementioned ‘The Third Man’, and ‘The Lady from Shanghai’, starring his soon to be ex-wife, Rita Hayworth. He was also a Shakespearean actor of some note, and was well-received as both Macbeth, and Othello, playing both leads.

For me, his genius is best viewed in only two films, ‘Touch of Evil’ in 1958, and ‘Chimes at Midnight’, in 1966. If I could only ever have one film, it would be a hard choice between these two, with ‘Chimes’ probably winning. ‘Touch of Evil’, despite a classic miscasting of Charlton Heston as a Mexican police officer, is a lesson in film-making. The opening crane shot is an absolute wonder, no matter how many times you see it. Welles performance as an obese, corrupt cop, is a complete tour-de-force, and his presence on screen is mesmerising. He even ropes in Marlene Dietrich, as a has-been good time girl, and the location filming, with sumptuous black and white photography, is a lesson to anyone wanting to direct a film, let alone be one of the stars into the bargain.

Here is the famous opening sequence, three and a half minutes of cinematic excellence.

‘Chimes at Midnight’ sees Welles playing the Shakespearean character of Sir John Falstaff, with the various plays featuring him, rolled into one. His performance in that role is without parallel, before or since. He strikes just the right note of failed grandeur, pathetic has-been, and former bon-viveur; all essential to fully understand Falstaff’s decline. The acting is truly heartbreaking, and if you know anything of the actual story, it is also riveting in its authenticity. A bloated Welles, heavily made up, sonorous of voice, and acting seamlessly, is completely believable in this classic role. It is one of my favourite films of all time, and for my money, one of the best, and most complete films ever made.

Here is the trailer.

I admit unashamedly to being a fan. I could watch Orson Welles read the news, and be enthralled. The malicious twinkle in his eye, and cheeky grin, need no words to portray a character. He is the definitive actor, consummate director, and a true auteur.

I am glad he was alive, and thankful for all his work. So, from me, it is a ‘thank you’ to Mr. Welles.

26 thoughts on “Thank you, Mr Welles

  1. Great post 🙂 Do not forget that it was the Hollywood studios that botched his career, when they truncated Magnificent Ambersons from 132 minutes to the 88 minute version that survives to this day. Even in it’s dramatically altered form though, Ambersons still stands as a masterpiece. I do agree though that Kane is not Welles crowning achievement – as great as it is, that proclamation is a little too far-fetched. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

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  2. Hear. Hear. I’m also a huge fan and I agree that he is a better actor than a director, but he was an off the charts, fantastic director. One of my favorite performances was an the attorney to Leopold and Loeb inspired child murders in Richard Fleischer’s Compulsion. Great write up. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. I have on DVD:
    “Citizen Kane,”
    “The Lady from Shanghai”
    “The Third Man”

    I have seen:
    “Touch of Evil” (two viewings; DVD borrowed from Las Vegas public library)

    I want to see “Chimes at Midnight.” (But I will see no film before its time.)

    Pete, the music that accompanies that long opening scene from “Touch of Evil” is just as masterful as the crane shot. The camerawork in “Citizen Kane” is also genius, from the tracking shot that moves from a snowy scene outside into the house through a window…to the snow globe that is as important psychologically as it is visually.

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  4. those are tought choices, and I agree it would be difficult to pick a favourite between Chimes at Midnight and Touch of Evil. I am also fond of Othello, and Michael MacLiamoir wrote a wonderful memoir about the behind the scenes. Great post. Cheers.

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  5. Do you know, I’ve never seen “Chimes” and “Evil” – now added to my mental checklist. You speak of Wells in the same way that I would speak of David Lean, my favourite director. So when I blog about him (which will never happen) I might have to abashedly viking some of the wording 😉 I have to say that Wells is an actor that I know is supposed to be a genius but I have never seen any of his films (except “The Third Man”, such greatness!). There’s always something, or someone, yet to be explored with unmitigated joy and relish, and that makes life worth living.

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    1. Thanks A. I am a big David Lean fan too but it is as an actor that I like Orson Welles so much. Both films are worth the effort, if you ever get the time. ‘Life is too short to watch every film’. Someone should have said that, at some time, in some place. Regards to you as always, Pete. x

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      1. You are??? Fabulous. What’s your favourite film by Lean? Mine is Great Expectations, followed by ‘Bride’ and ‘Zhivago’. x

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    2. You should blog about David Lean. I am convinced that you could shed new light on his greatness, and bring legions of new devotees to his work. Can I also respectfully suggest that you have a look at the work of Jack Cardiff? He was the Lighting Cameraman on many D.L. films, and it is his touch that adds a signature to the work. x

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      1. Thank you my dear I have just read it and ADORE your attention to detail; will respond in length tomorrow. And, I might just blog about Lean. I don’t know why the thought never occurred to me. Probably because I’ve never written about cinema and tend to stick with history, philosophy and the like. Hm, I’ll give it some thought. Thank you. Hugs, me

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