Nationality: American. Born: Kenosha, Wisconsin, 6 May 1916. Education: Attended Todd School in Woodstock, Illinois, 1926–31. Family: Married 1) Virginia Nicholson, 1934 (divorced 1939), one son; 2) Rita Hayworth, 1943 (divorced 1947), one daughter; 3) Paola Mori, 1955, one daughter. Career: Actor and director at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, 1931–34; debut on Broadway with Katherine Cornell's road company, also co-directed first film, 1934; collaborated with John Houseman for the Phoenix Theatre Group, 1935, later producer and director for Federal Theater Project; co-founder, with Houseman, Mercury Theatre Group, 1937; moved into radio with Mercury Theatre on the Air, 1938, including famous dramatization of H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds , Halloween, 1938; given contract by RKO, 1939; directed feature debut, Citizen Kane , 1941; began
The Hearts of Age (16mm short) (co-d)
Too Much Johnson (+ co-pr, sc) (unedited, not shown publicly, destroyed in 1970 fire)
Citizen Kane (+ pr, co-sc, role as Charles Foster Kane)
The Magnificent Ambersons (+ pr, sc); It's All True (+ pr, co-sc) (not completed and never shown)
Journey into Fear (co-d, uncredited, pr, co-sc, role as Colonel Haki)
The Stranger (+ co-sc, uncredited, role as Franz Kindler, alias Professor Charles Rankin)
The Lady from Shanghai (+ sc, role as Michael O'Hara) (produced in 1946); Macbeth (+ pr, sc, co-costumes, role as Macbeth)
Othello (+ pr, sc, role as Othello and narration)
Mr. Arkadin ( Confidential Report ) (+ sc, art d, costumes, role as Gregory Arkadin and narration); Don Quixote (+ co-pr, sc, asst ph, role as himself and narration) (not completed)
Touch of Evil (+ sc, role as Hank Quinlan)
Le Procès ( The Trial ) (+ sc, role as Hastler and narration)
Chimes at Midnight (Falstaff) (+ sc, costumes, role as Sir John Falstaff)
The Immortal Story (+ sc, role as Mr. Clay)
The Deep (+ sc, role as Russ Brewer)
The Other Side of the Wind (+ sc) (filming begun in 1972, uncompleted)
F for Fake (+ sc)
The Spanish Earth (Ivens) (original narration)
Swiss Family Robinson (Ludwig) (off-screen narration)
Jane Eyre (R. Stevenson) (role as Edward Rochester)
Follow the Boys (Sutherland) (revue appearance with Marlene Dietrich)
Tomorrow Is Forever (Pichel) (role as John McDonald)
Duel in the Sun (Vidor) (off-screen narration)
Black Magic (Ratoff) (role as Cagliostro)
Prince of Foxes (role as Cesare Borgia)
The Third Man (Reed) (role as Harry Lime)
The Black Rose (Hathaway) (role as General Bayan)
Return to Glennascaul (Edwards) (role as himself)
Trent's Last Case (Wilcox) (role as Sigsbee Manderson); Si Versailles m'était conté (Guitry) (role as Benjamin Franklin); L'uomo, la bestia e la virtu (Steno) (role as the beast)
Napoléon (Guitry) (role as Hudson Lowe); "Lord Mountdrago" segment of Three Cases of Murder (O'Ferrall) (role as Lord Mountdrago)
Trouble in the Glen (Wilcox) (role as Samin Cejador y Mengues); Out of Darkness (documentary) (narrator)
Moby Dick (Huston) (role as Father Mapple)
Pay the Devil (Arnold) (role as Virgil Renckler); The Long Hot Summer (Ritt) (role as Will Varner)
The Roots of Heaven (Huston) (role as Cy Sedgwick); Les Seigneurs de la forêt (Sielman and Brandt) (off-screen narration); The Vikings (Fleischer) (narration)
David e Golia (Pottier and Baldi) (role as Saul); Compulsion (Fleischer) (role as Jonathan Wilk); Ferry to Hong Kong (Gilbert) (role as Captain Hart); High Journey (Baylis) (off-screen narration); South Sea Adventure (Dudley) (off-screen narration)
Austerlitz (Gance) (role as Fulton); Crack in the Mirror (Fleischer) (role as Hagolin/Lamorcière); I tartari (Thorpe) (role as Barundai)
Lafayette (Dréville) (role as Benjamin Franklin); King of Kings (Ray) (off-screen narration); Désordre (short) (role)
Der grosse Atlantik (documentary) (narrator)
The V.I.P.s (Asquith) (role as Max Buda); Rogopag (Pasolini) (role as the film director)
L'Echiquier de Dieu ( La Fabuleuse Aventure de Marco Polo ) (de la Patellière) (role as Ackermann); The Finest Hours (Baylis) (narrator)
The Island of Treasure (J. Franco) (role); A King's Story (Booth) (narrator)
Is Paris Burning? (Clément) (role); A Man for All Seasons (Zinnemann) (role as Cardinal Wolsey)
Casino Royale (Huston and others) (role); The Sailor from Gibralter (Richardson) (role); I'll Never Forget Whatshisname (Winner) (role)
Oedipus the King (Saville) (role as Tiresias); Kampf um Rom (role as Emperor Justinian); The Southern Star (Hayers) (role)
Tepepa (role); Barbed Water (documentary) (narrator); Una su 13 (role); Michael the Brave (role); House of Cards (Guillermin) (role)
Catch-22 (Nichols) (role as General Dweedle); Battle of Neretva (Bulajia) (role); Start the Revolution without Me (Yorkin) (narrator); The Kremlin Letter (Huston) (role); Waterloo (Bondarchuk) (role as King Louis XVIII)
Directed by John Ford (Bogdanovich) (narrator); Sentinels of Silence (narrator); A Safe Place (Jaglom) (role)
La Decade prodigieuse (role); Malpertius (role); I racconti di Canterbury (Pasolini) (role); Treasure Island (Hough) (role as Long John Silver); Get to Know Your Rabbit (De Palma) (role)
Necromancy (Gordon) (role)
Bugs Bunny Superstar (Jones) (narrator)
Challenge of Greatness (documentary) (narrator); Voyage of the Damned (Rosenberg) (role)
It Happened One Christmas (Thomas) (for TV) (role)
The Late Great Planet Earth (on-camera narrator); The Muppet Movie (Frawley) (role as J. P. Morgan); Tesla (role as Yug)
Butterfly (Cimber) (role as the judge); The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (Guenette) (role)
Where Is Parsifal? (Helman) (role); Almonds and Raisins (Karel) (narrator)
Genocide (Schwartzman) (narrator)
Someone to Love (Jaglom) (role)
Everybody's Shakespeare , New York, 1933; revised as The Mercury Shakespeare , 1939.
The Trial (script), New York, 1970.
The Films of Orson Welles , by Charles Higham, Berkeley, 1970.
Citizen Kane , script, in The Citizen Kane Book , by Pauline Kael, New York, 1971.
This Is Orson Welles , with Peter Bogdanovich, New York, 1972.
Touch of Evil , edited by Terry Comito, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1985.
The Big Brass Ring: An Original Screenplay , with Oja Kodar, Santa Barbara, California, 1987.
Chimes at Midnight , New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1988.
Preface to He That Plays the King , by Kenneth Tynan, New York, 1950.
Interview with Francis Koval, in Sight and Sound (London), December 1950.
"The Third Audience," in Sight and Sound (London), January-March 1954.
"For a Universal Cinema," in Film Culture (New York), January 1955.
Interviews with André Bazin and Charles Bitsch, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June and September 1958.
"Conversation at Oxford," with Derrick Griggs, in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1960.
" Citizen Kane ," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), January 1962.
" Le Procès ," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), February 1963.
Interview with Everett Sloane, in Film (London), no. 37, 1965.
"A Trip to Don Quixoteland: Conversations with Orson Welles," with Juan Cobos and others, in Cahiers du Cinéma in English (New York), June 1966.
Interview with Kenneth Tynan, in Playboy (Chicago), March 1967.
"First Person Singular," with Joseph McBride, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1971–72.
"Heart of Darkness," in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1972.
"Orson Welles par Orson Welles," in Positif (Paris), no. 418, December 1995.
"Le metteur en scène de thèâtre aujourd'hui," in Positif (Paris), no. 439, September 1997.
Fowler, Roy A., Orson Welles, A First Biography, London, 1946.
Bazin, André, Orson Welles , Paris, 1950.
MacLiammóir, Micheál, Put Money in Thy Purse , London, 1952.
Noble, Peter, The Fabulous Orson Welles , London, 1956.
Bogdanovich, Peter, The Cinema of Orson Welles , New York, 1961.
Cowie, Peter, The Cinema of Orson Welles , London, 1965.
Bessy, Maurice, Orson Welles , New York, 1971.
Higham, Charles, The Films of Orson Welles , Berkeley, 1971.
Kael, Pauline, The Citizen Kane Book , New York, 1971.
Houseman, John, Run Through: A Memoir , New York, 1972.
McBride, Joseph, Orson Welles , London, 1972.
Bazin, André, Orson Welles: A Critical View , translated by Jonathan Rosenbaum, New York, 1978.
Naremore, J., The Magic World of Orson Welles , New York, 1978.
Valentinetti, Claudio M., Orson Welles , Florence, 1981.
Bergala, Alain, and Jean Narboni, editors, Orson Welles , Paris, 1982.
Andrew, Dudley, Film in the Aura of Art , Princeton, New Jersey, 1984.
Carringer, Robert L., The Making of Citizen Kane , Los Angeles, 1985.
Higham, Charles, Orson Welles: The Rise and Fall of an American Genius , New York, 1985.
Leaming, Barbara, Orson Welles: A Biography , New York, 1985.
Parra, Danièle, and Jacques Zimmer, Orson Welles , Paris, 1985.
Taylor, John Russell, Orson Welles: A Celebration , London, 1986.
Brady, Frank, Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles , New York, 1989.
Wood, Bret, Orson Welles: A Bio-Bibliography , Westport, Connecticut, 1990.
Howard, James, The Complete Films of Orson Welles , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1991.
Callow, Simon, Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu , New York, 1995.
Caccia, Riccardo, Invito al cinema di Orson Welles , Milan, 1997.
Anderegg, Michael A., Orson Welles, Shakespeare, and Popular Culture , New York, 1999.
Cocteau, Jean, profile of Welles, in Cinémonde (Paris), 6 March 1950.
MacLiammóir, Micheál, "Orson Welles," in Sight and Sound (London), July-September 1954.
"L'Oeuvre d'Orson Welles," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1958.
Gerasimov, Sergei, "All Is Not Welles," in Films and Filming (London), September 1959.
Stanbrook, Alan, "The Heroes of Welles," in Film (London), no. 28, 1961.
"Welles Issue" of Image et Son (Paris), no. 139, 1961.
Weinberg, Herman G., "The Legion of Lost Films," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1962.
Tyler, Parker, "Orson Welles and the Big Experimental Film Cult," in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1963.
Pechter, William, "Trials," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1963–64.
Johnson, William, "Orson Welles: Of Time and Loss," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1967.
Daney, Serge, "Welles in Power," in Cahiers du Cinéma in English (New York), September 1967.
"Special Report: Orson Welles," in Action (Los Angeles), May-June 1969.
McBride, Joseph, "Welles before Kane," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1970.
Wilson, Richard, "It's Not Quite All True," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1970.
Henderson, Brian, "The Long Take," in Film Comment (New York), Summer 1971.
Prokosch, Mike, "Orson Welles," in Film Comment (New York), Summer 1971.
Goldfarb, Phyllis, "Orson Welles' Use of Sound," in Take One (Montreal), July-August 1971.
Coulouris, George, and Bernard Herrmann, "'The Citizen Kane Book,"' in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1972.
Cohen, H., "The Heart of Darkness in Citizen Kane ," in Cinema Journal (Evanston), Fall 1972.
Goldfarb, Phyllis, "Heston on Welles," in Take One (Montreal), October 1972.
Hale, N., "Welles and the Logic of Death," in Film Heritage (New York), Fall 1974.
Gow, Gordon, "A Touch of Orson," in Films and Filming (London), December 1974.
"Hollywood Salutes its 'Maverick' Genius Orson Welles," special issue of American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), April 1975.
Brady, Frank, "The Lost Film of Orson Welles," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), November 1978.
McBride, Joseph, "All's Welles," in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1978.
Poague, Lee, "The Great God Orson: Chabrol's 'Ten Days' Wonder," in Film Criticism (Edinboro, Pennsylvania), no. 3, 1979.
Valentinetti, Claudio M., "Orson Welles," in Castoro Cinema (Milan), no. 83, 1980.
Neale, Steve, "Re-viewing Welles," in Screen (London), May-June 1982.
Houston, Beverle, "Power and Dis-integration in the Films of Orson Welles," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1982.
Weber, A., "Du citizen Welles au cinéma direct," in CinémAction (Conde-sur-Noireau), no. 23, November 1982.
McLean, A. M., "Orson Welles and Shakespeare: History and Consciousness in Chimes at Midnight ," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), no. 3, 1983.
Beja, M., "Where You Can't Get at Him: Orson Welles and the Attempt to Escape from Father," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), January 1985.
Strick, Philip, "Orson Welles," in Films and Filming (London), July 1985.
McCarthy, Todd, obituary, in Variety (London), 16 October 1985.
Kauffmann, Stanley, obituary, in New Republic (New York), 11 November 1985.
Stubbs, J. C., "The Evolution of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil from Novel to Film," in Cinema Journal (Champaign, Illinois), Winter 1985.
"Orson Welles Sections" of Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November and December 1985.
Wood, Michael, "The Magnificent Orson," in American Film (New York), December 1985.
Maxfield, J., "A Man like Ourselves," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), no. 3, 1986.
Harper, W. R., "Polanski v. Welles on Macbeth : Character or Fat?," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), no. 4, 1986.
"Welles Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), January-February 1986.
Kehr, Dave, obituary, in Film Comment (New York), January-February 1986.
Traubery, L., "Celovek pervoj veliciny," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 4, April 1986.
Rosenbaum, Jonathan, "The Invisible Orson Welles," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1986.
Gehler, F., "Orson Welles: Das Trauma von Rosebud ," in Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), vol. 14, no. 8, August 1986.
Bates, Robin, "Fiery Speech in a World of Shadows: Rosebud's Impact on Early Audiences," in Cinema Journal (Champaign, Illinois), vol. 26, no. 2, 1987.
Sartre, Jean-Paul, " Citizen Kane ," in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), vol. 7, no. 1, 1987.
Anderegg, Michael, "Every Third Word a Lie: Rhetoric and History in Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight ," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1987.
Rodman, Howard A., "The Last Days of Orson Welles," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), June 1987.
France, Richard, "Orson Welles' First Film," in Films in Review (New York), August-September 1987.
Bywater, William, "The Desire for Embodiment in Orson Welles's Citizen Kane ," in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), vol. 7, no. 2, 1988.
Jewell, Richard B., "Orson Welles, George Schaefer and It's All True ," in Film History (Philadelphia), vol. 2, no. 4, 1988.
Kalinak, Kathryn, "The Text of Music: A Study of The Magnificent Ambersons ," in Cinema Journal (Champaign, Illinois), vol. 27, no. 4, 1988.
Perlmutter, Ruth, "Working with Welles: an Interview with Henry Jaglom," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1988.
Stainton, A., " Don Quixote : Orson Welles' Secret," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1988.
White, Armond, "Wishing Welles," in Film Comment (New York), October 1988.
"Orson Welles Issue" of Persistence of Vision (Maspeth, New York), no. 7, 1989.
Norcen, L., "Orson Welles e la scena della negazione," in Cinema Nuovo (Rome), vol. 38, no. 319, May-June 1989.
Vidal, Gore, "Remembering Orson Welles," in New York Review of Books , 1 June 1989.
Nielsen, N. A., "Et allerhelvedes perspektiv," in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), vol. 35, no. 189, Autumn 1989.
Bywater, W., "The Visual Pleasure of Patriarchal Cinema: Welles' 'Touch of Evil,"' Film Criticism , vol. 14, no. 3, 1990.
Lezcano, A., "Un genio llamando Orson Welles," in Cine Cubano (Havana), no. 130, 1990.
Simon, W. G. "Welles: Baktin: Parody," in Quarterly Review of Film and Video (Langhorne, PA), vol. 12, no. 1–2, May 1990.
Thomas, F. "Orson Welles," in Positif (Paris), January 1991.
Naremore, James, "The Trial: The FBI vs. Orson Welles," in Film Comment (New York), January-February 1991.
Andrew, G., "Reel Life," in Time Out (London), no. 1089, 3 July 1991.
Saada, N. "Les trésors de Welles," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 447, September 1991.
Hogue, Peter, "The Friends of Kane," in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1991.
Jameson, Richard T., "Cries and Whispers," in Film Comment (New York), January-February 1992.
Rosenbaum, Jonathan, "The Seven Arkadins," in Film Comment (New York), January-February 1992.
Berthome, J.-P., and others, in Positif (Paris), special section, no. 378, July-August 1992.
Cramer, B., "The Restored 'Othello,"' Films in Review , July-August 1992.
McBride, Joseph, "The Last Kingdom of Orson Welles," in New York Review of Books , 13 May 1993.
Niogret, H. "Du pirate au vampire. Orson Welles," in Positif (Paris), no. 379, September 1992.
Rosenbaum, J. and Philip Kemp, "Improving Mr. Welles. Perplexed in the Extreme," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 2, no. 6, October 1992.
Timm, M., "Orson Welles van ingen martyr!," in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 35, no. 3, 1993.
Timm, M., T. Hansen, and P. Bogdanovich, in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 35, no. 3, Summer 1993.
Purtell, Tim, "The Genius Nobody Wanted," in Entertainment Weekly , 8 October 1993.
Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), special section, no. 475, January 1994.
Combs, Richard, "Burning Masterworks," in Film Comment (New York), January-February 1994.
Aumont, Jacques, "L'ombre et la couleur: Une histoire immortelle," in Cinémathèque (Paris), no. 5, Spring 1994.
DeBona, G., "Into Africa: Orson Welles and Heart of Darkness," in Cinema Journal (Austin), vol. 33, no. 3, Spring 1994.
Garcia, Maria, "Re-inventing Orson Welles," in Films in Review (New York), vol. 45, no. 5–6, May-June 1994.
Lapinski, Stan, "Contouren van het Welles-universum," in Skrien (Amsterdam), no. 196, June-July 1994.
La Rochelle, Réal, "Welles/Herrmann. Passage de la radio au cinéma," in 24 Images (Montreal), no. 73–74, September-October 1994.
Hall, John W. "Touch of Psycho? Hitchcock's Debt to Welles," in Bright Lights (Cincinnati), no. 14, 1995.
Rosenbaum, Jonathan, and Bill Krohn, "Orson Welles in the U.S.: An Exchange," in Persistence of Vision (Maspeth, New York), no. 11, 1995.
Brandlmeier, Thomas, "Die Vertreibung aus dem Paradies," in EPD Film (Frankfurt), vol. 12, no. 3, March 1995.
Lapinski, Stan, "Kroniek. De mist verdrijven," in Skrien (Amsterdam), no. 206, February-March 1996.
Scorsese, Martin, "Ma cinéphilie," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 500, March 1996.
Citizen Kane: The Fiftieth Anniversary , 1991.
Orson Welles: What Went Wrong? , 1992.
* * *
References to Orson Welles as one of America's most influential directors and Citizen Kane as one of the great American films have become a simplistic way to encapsulate Welles's unique contribution to cinema. It is a contribution that seems obvious but is difficult to adequately summarize without examining his complex career.
Welles began as an actor in Ireland at Dublin's famous Gate Theater, bluffing his way into the theater's acting troupe by claiming to be well-known on the Broadway stage. He began directing plays in New York, and worked with John Houseman in various theatrical groups. At one point they attempted to stage Marc Blitzstein's leftist, pro-labor The Cradle Will Rock for the Federal Theatre Project, but government agents blocked the opening night's production. Performers and audience subsequently moved to another theater, and the events surrounding the performance became one of Broadway's most famous episodes. The incident led to Houseman being fired and Welles's resignation from the Project.
Houseman and Welles then formed the Mercury Theatre Group, armed with a manifesto written by Houseman declaring their intention to foster new talent, experiment with new types of plays, and appeal to the same audiences that frequented the Federal Theater plays. Welles's work on the New York stage was generally leftist in its political orientation, and, inspired by the expressionist theater of the 1920s, prefigured the look of his films.
Welles and his Mercury Theater Group expanded into radio as the Mercury Theater on the Air. In contrast to most theater-oriented shows on radio, which consisted merely of plays read aloud, the Mercury group adapted their works in a more natural, personal manner: most of the plays were narrated in the first person. Shrewd imitations of news announcements and technical breakdowns heightened the realism of his 1938 Halloween War of the Worlds broadcast to such a degree that the show has become famous for the panic it caused among its American listeners, a number of which thought that New Jersey was actually being invaded by Martians. This event itself has become a pop culture legend, shrouded in exaggeration and half-truths.
RKO studios hired Welles in 1939, hoping he could repeat the success on film for them that he had enjoyed on stage and in radio. Welles, according to most sources, accepted the job because his Mercury Theater needed money to produce an elaborate production called 5 Kings , an anthology of several of Shakespeare's plays. Whatever the reason, his contract with RKO began an erratic and rocky relationship with the Hollywood industry that would, time and again, end in bitter disappointment for Welles. The situation eventually led him to begin a self-imposed exile in Europe.
The film on which Welles enjoyed the most creative freedom was his first and most famous, Citizen Kane. At the time the film created a controversy over both its subject matter and style. Loosely based on the life of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the film supposedly upset Hearst to such a degree that he attempted to stop the production, and then the distribution and exhibition. In the end, his anger was manifested in the scathing reviews critics gave the film in all his newspapers. The film's innovative structure, which included flashbacks from the differing points-of-view of the various characters, in addition to other formal devices so different from the classic Hollywood cinema, also contributed to Kane 's financial failure and commercial downfall, though critics other than those employed at Hearst's papers generally gave the film positive reviews.
Other controversies surrounded the film as well, including one over scriptwriting credit. Originally, Welles claimed solo credit for writing the film, but the Writer's Guild forced him to acknowledge Herman Mankiewicz as co-author. Each writer's exact contributions remain unknown, but the controversy was revived during the early 1970s by critic Pauline Kael, who attempted to prove that Mankiewicz was most responsible for the script. Whatever the case, the argument becomes unimportant and even ludicrous given the unique direction which shapes the material, and which is undeniably Welles's.
Due to the failure of Kane , Welles was supervised quite closely on his next film, The Magnificent Ambersons. After shooting was completed, Welles went to South America to begin work on a documentary, It's All True , designed to help dispel Nazi propaganda in Latin America. He took a rough cut of Ambersons with him, hoping to coordinate cutting with editor Robert Wise. A sneak preview of Welles's Ambersons proved disastrous, however, and the studio cut his 140-minute-plus version to eighty-eight minutes and added a "happy ending." The film was a critical and commercial failure, and the entire Mercury staff was removed from the RKO lot.
Welles spent the remainder of his Hollywood career sparring with various producers or studios over the completed versions of his films and his uncredited direction on films in which he starred. For example, Journey into Fear was begun by Welles but finished by Norman Foster, though Welles claims he made contributions and suggestions throughout. Jane Eyre , which made Welles a popular star, was directed by Robert Stevenson, but the gothic overtones, the mise-en-scène , and other stylistic devices suggest a Wellesian contribution. With The Stranger , directed for Sam Spiegel, he adhered closely to the script and a preplanned editing schedule, evidently determined to prove that he could turn out a Hollywood product on time and on budget. Welles, though, subsequently referred to The Stranger as "the worst of my films," and several Welles scholars agree.
Welles directed one of his best films, The Lady from Shanghai , for Harry Cohn of Columbia. The film, a loose, confusing, noirish tale of double-crosses and corrupted innocence, starred Welles's wife at the time, Rita Hayworth. Cohn, who was supposedly already dissatisfied with their marriage because he felt it would reduce Hayworth's boxoffice value, was furious at Welles for the image she presented in Shanghai. The film, shot mostly on location, was made under stressful circumstances, with Welles often re-writing during the shooting. It was edited several times and finally released two years after its completion, but failed commercially and critically. His final Hollywood project, a version of Macbeth for Republic Studios, was also considered a commercial flop.
Disenchanted with Hollywood, Welles left for Europe, where he began the practice of acting in other directors' films in order to finance his own projects. His portrayal of Harry Lime in Carol Reed's The Third Man is considered his finest work from this period, and Welles continued to create villainous antagonists who are often more interesting, complex, or exciting than the protagonists of the films. In the roles of Col. Haki in Journey into Fear , Will Varner in Martin Ritt's The Long Hot Summer , Quinlan in Touch of Evil , and in Mr. Arkadin , Welles created a sinister persona for which he has become as famous as for his direction of Citizen Kane. His last roles were often caricatures of that persona, as in Marlo Thomas's It Happened One Christmas , or parodies as in The Muppet Movie. Welles's European ventures include his Othello , shot over a period of years between acting assignments, often under chaotic circumstances. The difficulties of the film's production are often described as though they were the madcap adventures of a roguish artist, but in reality it must have been an extreme hardship to assemble and reassemble the cast over the course of the film's shooting. At one point, he "borrowed" equipment under cover of night from the set of Henry King's The Black Rose (in which Welles was starring) to quickly shoot a few scenes. Welles later obtained enough financial backing to make Mr. Arkadin , a Kane -like story of a powerful man who made his fortune as a white slaver, and Chimes at Midnight. Welles returned to America in the late 1950s to direct Touch of Evil , starring Charlton Heston. Originally approached only to star in the film, Welles mistakenly thought he was also to direct. Heston intervened and insisted he be allowed to do so. Welles immediately threw out the original script, rewriting it without reading the book, Badge of Evil , upon which the script was based. Welles's last works include The Immortal Story , a one-hour film made for French television, and F for Fake , a strange combination of documentary footage shot by another director, some Welles footage from earlier ventures, and Welles's own narration.
Welles's outsider status in connection with the American film industry is an interesting part of cinema history in itself, but his importance as a director is due to the innovations he introduced through his films and the influence they have had on filmmaking and film theory. Considering the turbulent relationship Welles experienced with Hollywood and the circumstances under which his films were made in Europe, it is surprising there is any thematic and stylistic consistency in his work at all.
The central character in many of his films is often a powerful, egotistical man who lives outside or above the law and society. Kane, Arkadin, and Mr. Clay ( The Immortal Story ) are enabled to do so by their wealth and position; Quinlan ( Touch of Evil ) by his job as a law enforcer, which allows him to commit injustices to suit his own purposes. Even George Minafer ( Ambersons ) becomes an outsider as a modern, industrialized society supersedes his aristocratic, nineteenth-century way of life. These characters are never innocent, but seem to be haunted by an innocence they have lost. Kane's "Rosebud," the emblem of childhood that he clings to, is the classic example, but this theme can also be found in Mr. Arkadin , where Arkadin is desperate to keep his daughter from discovering his sordid past. Many parallels between the two films have been drawn, including the fact that the title characters are both wealthy and powerful men whose past lives are being investigated by a stranger. Interestingly, just as Kane whispers "rosebud" on his deathbed, Arkadin speaks his daughter's name at the moment of his death. Quinlan, in Touch of Evil , is confronted with his memories and his past when he runs into Tanya, now a prostitute in a whorehouse. The ornaments and mementoes in her room (some of them from Welles's personal collection), seem to jog his memory of a time when he was not a corrupt law official. In Shanghai , it is interesting to note that Welles does not portray the egotist, Bannister, but instead the "innocent" Michael O'Hara, who is soiled by his dealings with Bannister's wife. That the corrupt antagonist is doomed is often indicated by a prologue or introductory sequence which foreshadows his destruction—the newsreel sequence in Kane ; the pening montage of Ambersons , which condenses eighteen years of George Minafer's life into ten minutes to hint that George will get his "comeuppance" in the end; the opening funeral scene of Othello ; and the detailing of Mr. Clay's sordid past in The Immortal Story. The themes of lost innocence and inescapable fate often shroud Welles's films with a sense of melancholy, which serves to make these characters worthy of sympathy.
Much has been made of Welles's use of deep-focus photography, particularly in Kane and Ambersons. Though a directorial presence is often suggested in the cinema through the use of editing, with Welles it is through mise-en-scène , particularly in these two films. Many Welles scholars discuss the ambiguous nature of long-shot/deep-focus photography, where the viewer is allowed to sift through the details of a scene and make some of his own choices about what is important to the narrative, plot development, and so on. However, Welles's arrangement of actors in specific patterns; his practice of shooting from unusual angles; and his use of wide-angle lenses, which distort the figures closest to them, are all intended to convey meaning. For example, the exaggerated perspective of the scene where Thatcher gives young Charles Kane a sled makes Thatcher appear to tower over the boy, visually suggesting his unnatural and menacing hold on him (at least from young Kane's point of view).
Welles also employed rather complex sound tracks in Kane and Ambersons , perhaps a result of his radio experience. The party sequence of Ambersons , for example, makes use of overlapping dialogue as the camera tracks along the ballroom, as though one were passing by, catching bits of conversation.
Welles's visual style becomes less outrageous and less concerned with effects as his career continued. There seems to be an increasing concentration on the acting in his latter works, particularly in the Shakespeare films. Welles had a lifelong interest in Shakespeare and his plays, and is well known for his unique handling and interpretations of the material. Macbeth , for example, was greatly simplified, with much dialogue omitted and scenes shifted around. A primitive feel is reflected by badly synchronized sound, and much of the impact of the spoken word is lost. Othello , shot in Italy and Morocco, makes use of outdoor locations in contrast to the staginess of Macbeth. Again, Welles was quite free with interpretation: Iago's motives, for example, are suggested to be the result of sexual impotency. His most successful adaptation of Shakespeare is Chimes at Midnight , an interpretation of the Falstaff story with parts taken from Henry IV , parts one and two, Henry V, Merry Wives of Windsor , and Richard II. In Chimes , Falstaff, as with many of Welles's central characters, is imprisoned by the past. Like George Minafer, he straddles two ages, one medieval and the other modern. Falstaff is destroyed not only by the aging process but also by the problems of being forced into a new world, as is Minafer (and perhaps Kane). Again Welles is quite individualistic in his presentation of the material, making Falstaff a true friend to the king and an innocent, almost childlike, victim of a new order.
In the years before he died, Welles became known for his appearances in television commercials and on talk shows, playing the part of the celebrity to its maximum. His last role was as a narrator on an innovative episode of the television detective series Moonlighting , starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd. It is unfortunate that his latter-day persona as a bon vivant often overshadows his contributions to the cinema.