Thank you, Mr Welles

Reblogging this personal tribute to Orson Welles from 2013. Not many of you will have seen it before.

beetleypete

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…

View original post 426 more words

Retro Review: The Third Man (1949)

This British thriller is considered by many to be one of the greatest films ever made. I wonder if there is a film fan out there who has never seen it? If so, you are missing a treat indeed.

Directed by Carol Reed, screenplay by Graham Greene, and cinematography by Robert Krasker, this black and white film is simply stunning, in every way imaginable. And that’s even before you consider the cast, led by Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee, and Alida Valli. Add an amazingly memorable soundtrack from Anton Karas, and ‘masterpiece’ is the word that springs to mind.

The setting is post-war Vienna, and location filming puts us right into the heart of that European city. Like Berlin at the time, the city is divided into zones controlled by each of the victorious allies, and Black Market dealing and racketeering is rife. American fiction writer Holly Martins (Cotten) arrives, searching for his friend Harry Lime (Welles) who has contacted him, offering a job. He is surprised and dismayed that his old friend has been killed in an accident, and goes to his funeral. There he encounters Lime’s girlfriend (Valli), and two British Military Policemen, (Howard and Lee) who tell him that Harry Lime was a notorious racketeer, and that he should go back to America.

After Holly presses for a formal investigation into Harry’s death, he is upset to learn that Lime was involved in the medical drugs racket, selling Penicillin stolen from hospitals in the city on the Black Market. He was also responsible for getting the drug diluted, to make more profits. As a result, the cure was ineffective, and many people had died. When he asks Harry’s girlfriend about this, she admits it is true, but confesses that she is still in love with him. One night on a shadowy city street, Holly spots someone watching him from a doorway, and is shocked to recognise Harry. He now knows that the death had been faked, and very soon the Military Police are pursuing Harry through the huge sewers under Vienna’s streets. Holly becomes involved in the chase, leading to the final confrontation with his former friend.

This film is simply sumptuous. Rarely have night scenes been so wonderfully rendered on celluloid. Perfect lighting casts amazing shadows across city streets, and the rippling waters in underground tunnels. The climax is exciting, period feel perfect, (it was filmed at the time such events were happening) and a marvellous script gives Welles some of his best lines ever. His ‘Cuckoo Clock’ monologue has gone down in the history of cinema, and rightly so. Every cast member feels just right for their roles, and there is nothing flashy or over stylistic about it. Unusual camera angles, taut direction from Reed, and the interjection of the soundtrack at just the right moments leave us with the feeling that we have just seen something perfect.
And we have.

I am a huge fan of Orson Welles, and no less so in this film. He takes a relatively small role, in terms of screen time, and makes it into what is undoubtedly the starring role of the film. And he does something else. He makes us root for a heartless villain, even though we know we shouldn’t.

It really is as good as it sounds. Superb.

Just been watching…(60)

The Stranger (1946)

***No spoilers***

There is a free film channel in the UK called ‘Talking Pictures TV’. I recently managed to update my PVR to receive it, and have been enjoying its mix of old British films, and many American classics too.

This film starts with a man on the run. Allowed to escape from a European prison, he is nervous, obviously foreign, and he travels to South America, where he receives information about the location of a man he is desperate to get in contact with. Meanwhile, a team of investigators discuss his actions, hoping he will lead them to someone they are also seeking.

Small town America, 1946. White picket fences, and a place where everybody knows everyone else, and their business too. The war is just over, and people are settling back into the routine of jobs, and everyday life. When an edgy stranger gets off a bus, and goes into the local store that sells everything, he is immediately noticed. But he is also being followed, something he is unaware of. The stranger visits the house of a local College Professor, where he meets the man’s fiance, preparing for her wedding that evening. Unable to wait to see the man he is searching for, he goes off in the direction of the college, and encounters him in the woods.

This is film noir of course, but with a different slant. Nazis fleeing from prosecution, and the organisation determined to root them out. People hiding in plain sight, trusted and accepted by decent Americans living a prosperous and happy life in a town where you can walk home alone at night, and nothing ever happens except the arrival of the bus. A town where people love their dogs, respect the rich, and buy everything from one tiny shop. As the viewer, we readily accept this vision of a cosy utopia. One that is about to be shattered by unexpected events.

What lifts this above so many similar films is immediately obvious. An Oscar-nominated story, and the direction of Orson Welles, who also stars in the film, acting with his usual flair and precision. A dogged turn from a familiar Edward G. Robinson as the investigator, and solid support from Loretta Young, as the young woman deceived. We get an impossibly juvenile Richard Long as her brother, roped in to assist the investigator, and a priceless Billy House, as Mr Potter, the chequers-playing owner of the buy-everything store who sees all.

As you might expect, this is Welles’ film in every respect. His signature monologues dominate the scenes that feature them, and his wry grin pops up at just the right time. Direction is spot on too, from the overviews of the peaceful town, to claustrophobic night scenes in bedrooms and clock towers. Although to modern audiences, this might seem rather overblown, with Loretta Young often descending into melodrama, and the hunt for the elusive Nazis perhaps mirroring the Communist witch-hunts that came later, it is never less than entertaining, often gripping. The tension builds, then settles back into something homely and innocent, before racking up to the startling set-piece climax.

They don’t make them like they used to? They certainly don’t.

Film Directors: A sort-of A-Z: W

Close to the finish line now, with ‘W’. Before we get to the last tricky few, please continue to play along, adding your own choices in the comments. ‘W’ has lots to offer, and I will try to feature the less obvious choices, (with one exception) leaving many for you to select from.

German film-maker Wim Wenders is a man of many talents. As well as directing films, he also makes documentaries, and is an accomplished photographer too. He has made films in both German and English, and in Europe and America. I first noticed his name when watching the film ‘The Goalkeeper’s Fear Of The Penalty’ (1972), a downbeat crime thriller that showed obvious talent. I later saw the experimental ‘Alice In The Cities’ (1973), a black and white film with limited dialogue, that became famous as the first of Wenders’ ‘Road Trilogy’. That theme continued in 1984, with the outstanding ‘Paris, Texas’, starring Harry Dean Stanton in a haunting film about a man’s search for his missing wife. Wenders managed to make the bleak regions of Texas take on a European feel, and the soundtrack by Ry Cooder is unforgettable. He later made other award-winning films, including ‘Wings Of Desire’ (1987), and continues to work to this day.

Australian Peter Weir has been directing films since 1969, and has made some of my personal favourites during that time. ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock’ (1975) took a small story idea, and developed it into a mystical film experience, with tremendous performances from a mainly female cast. His political thriller ‘The Year Of Living Dangerously’ (1982) looked at the turbulent events in Indonesia, through the experiences of journalists based in that country. It starred Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver, and also featured an amazing performance from Linda Hunt, playing a male role. The year before, he had brought the epic war film ‘Gallipoli’ to the screen, with the impressive tale of Australian troops fighting in Turkey, in WW1. His list of credits continues, with ‘Witness’ (1985), and ‘The Mosquito Coast’ (1986), both starring Harrison Ford. ‘Dead Poets Society’ (1989), ‘Green Card’ (1990), and ‘The Truman Show’ (1998).

From Poland, I am featuring Andrzej Wajda. He made films from 1951 until his death in 2016, aged 90. He was the recipient of numerous awards and honours, as well as being acclaimed by critics and audiences all over the world. Perhaps his best known work internationally is the startling War Trilogy, which began with ‘A Generation’ (1954). This was followed by the riveting ‘Kanal’ in 1956, telling the story of resistance fighters during the Warsaw Uprising, fighting the Germans in and around the sewers of Warsaw. The trilogy was completed with ‘Ashes And Diamonds’ (1958), dealing with events immediately after the end of the war in Europe, with the upheaval and retribution that followed victory. It is generally thought to be one of the best 100 films films ever made.

No surprises with my top choice for ‘W’. A writer, actor, producer, director, theatrical wizard. He acted on stage, on the radio, and in many films too. During my lifetime, I can think of few people who have been as talented as Orson Welles. As a director, he made two of my all time favourites, and as an actor, he starred in many more. His 1941 film ‘Citizen Kane’ is hailed by many as the best film ever made, though I prefer some of his others myself. Like ‘Touch Of Evil’ (1958), with its legendary opening tracking crane shot, and Welles magnificent in the role of the bloated has-been detective, Quinlan. Or the wonderful ‘Chimes At Midnight’, something of a flawed masterpiece, with Welles never better as the tragi-comic Shakespearean character, Falstaff. So although I may prefer him for his acting, his directing is at the top of my list too.
Here’s that opening tracking crane shot I mentioned. This is film-making.

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.