Orson Welles

T O R O N T O   F I L M   S O C I E T Y

S E C O N D   S U M M E R   S E R I E S   –   1 9 6 5

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O R S O N   W E L L E S



Orson Welles came to motion pictures with a distinguished background in the theatre and having just frightened a continent out of its wits with his radio dramatization of “War of the Worlds” (on his superb Mercury Theatre series), but with no experience in the film medium.  It has often been suggested that the incredible stretching and expansion he gave to film technique in his first picture, Citizen Kane, was due to his not knowing what “couldn’t be done”.

A year or so ago a gaggle of the world’s best-known film critics were polled and voted Citizen Kane the greatest film ever made.

In the almost quarter-century since Kane, Welles has directed relatively few pictures, but all of them have been alive with originality, conviction and a brilliant sense of the dramatic.  Welles has moved all the way from enfant terrible to old maestro amid almost continual controversy about his artistic methods, his themes and his own acting style, and amid a constant struggle to have compete artistic control over his pictures.  In all this controversy, though, no one has ever called his movies dull.  They invariably crackle with action, drama (melodrama, his critics would say) and sharply-observed characters, and they add up to a unique and mordant view of the world Welles and we live in.

His Othello, shown in the first TFS Summer Series (of Shakespeare films), drew such interest that it was decided to devote our Second Summer Series entirely to Welles’ work as director, scriptwriter, costume designer and actor.  We believe you will find this short series a fascinating and entertaining look at one of the handful of truly great artists produced by the motion picture medium.

The Summer Series consists of five complete features directed by Welles, together with excerpts and other material relating to him:

Monday July 19  8 p.m.   Citizen Kane (1941) – Directed by and starring Welles, with Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane, Dorothy Comingore, Ray Collins and Agnes Moorehead; screenplay by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz.  “It uses camera and microphone as though their functions had been discovered for the first time.  Perhpas they have.”  (C.A. Lejeune, The Observer)

Monday July 26  8 p.m.   Touch of Evil (1958) – Directed by, screenplay by and starring Welles, with Janet Leigh, Charlton Heston, Marlene Dietrich – in which Welles makes exciting new use of sound in one of the first movies to portray the cold, soulless evil peculiar to our times.
Also an excerpt from a film not directed by Welles but in which he gives one of his most famous acting characterizations.

* * * (No Welles programme during holiday weekend) * * *

Monday Aug. 9  8 p.m.   The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) – Directed by and screenplay by Welles – one of the few pictures he directed in which he does not act; his directorial flair can thus be seen apart from his acting style.  Cast includes Tim Holt, Ann Baxter, Joseph Cotten, Dolores Costello, Agnes Moorehead, Richard Bennet.
This programme will also include other material related to Welles’ career.

Monday Aug. 16  8 p.m.   The Lady From Shanghai (1947) – Directed by, screenplaly by and starring Welles, with Rita Hayworth, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders – notable for its expresionistic sets and brilliant pace.
Also another complete feature of the same period, in which Welles was director, scriptwriter, costume designer and star.

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Admission by Summer Series membership only – $4.00 per person.  (Restricted to those 18 years of age and over.)  No single admissions or guest privileges.  Membership is limited by the size of this small, comfortable and air-conditioned theatre.

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Toronto Film Society  ****  Summer Series 1965  ****  An Orson Welles Retrospective

O R S O N   W E L L E S

Nobody writes about Orson.  That is not really a correct statement, since anybody who writes about his films seems to end up discussing him as much or more than the films themselves.  Nevertheless there is an element of truth in the statement, for the one book about him, The Fabulous Orson Welles by Peter Noble, is far more of an extended review of his works than it is any sort of biography.  The same thing can be said of an article by Peter Cowie in Films and Filming which lacks virtually any biographical detail.

No!  For information concerning Orson Welles you have to leave the field of film writing entirely.  The English Who’s Who gives him a full half page.  Who’s Who in America devotes a similar amount of space.  The Current Biography 1941 Edition of Who’s in the News and Why devotes three or four pages to him and refers to him as “this noisy young man”, adding the information that at that time he had a habit of calling everyone “Loveboat”.  However, it is from the barebones references in the two 1965 Who’s Whos that the most significant reminders emerge.  Some of them follow, along with a quote or two from a lively interview he gave to Dilys Powell.

He was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1915.  And as he put it, “I was born rich, coming to poverty later.  Which is why I started with starring parts and then progressed to the smaller ones.”  His first dramatic part was as a rabbit, at the age of six, in Marshall Fields’ store in Chicago.  Later, at the age of seven, he “waved a baton” in front of the many musicians who performed in his parents’ home.  He told Miss Powell that he was sure he must have been pretty insufferable as that sort of musical wunderkind.

At the age of fifteen, with both parents dead, he was urged by his guardian to take a trip to the British Isles and do some painting.  One night in Dublin, “-when I was down to my last few shillings I decided to attend a performance at the Dublin Gate Theatre”.  Through a series of coincidences he found himself backstage, where he introduced himself as a star of the Theater Guild in New York.  He says, “I don’t think Hilton Edwards really believed me but he was kind enough not to say so”.  In any case he did play a number of big roles and was invited to perform as a guest star with the Abbey Players.

Upon his return to the United States he was not given anything of a warm welcome.  Indeed he was actively slighted in some cases and as he put it, “I went away on a trip to sulk”.  During this trip to Morocco he wrote a book called Everybody’s Shakespeare, which was used for some years as a textbook in schools.  Returning to the United States again, he became the voice of “The Shadow” on radio and from that point on never looked back.  The rest of his career up to this year 1965 can best be followed by scanning the condensed list of his films and roles included in these notes.

Like Chaplin, Welles has been called a genius, although more often than not the appellation has been used with the intent to belittle.  It would seem that time after time, some reviewer erupts in outrage to suggest that he, the reviewer has at last been driven to the very last shreds of his patience by this “genius”.  Then the reviewer is likely to suggest that he, the writer, is going to settle matters once and for all and place the genius in the right category to which this latest, extravagance properly condemns him.  However, there is virtually no unanimity among such reviewers as to which production or role, at what time, marked the beginning of “Welles’ decline”.  Right from the start this sort of thing has been written about him.  Which would lead one to wonder if he ever had been a “genius” in the first place, ro was instead rather like the young lady in the oblique conversation, “Mabel isn’t as beautiful as she used to be.  — No!  She never was!”.

In the New Statesman of May 24, 1958, there appeared a letter from Welles dealing with Welles:

Touch of Evil

Sir, – Without being quite so foolish as to set my name to that odious thing, a ‘reply to the critic’, perhaps I may add a few oddments of information to Mr Whitebait’s brief reference to my picture Touch of Evil (what a silly title, by the way; it’s the first time I’ve heard it).   Most serious film reviewers appear to be quite without knowledge of the hard facts involved in manufacturing and, especially, merchandising a motion picture.  Such innocence, I’m sure, is very proper to their position; it is, therefore, not your critic I venture to set straight, but my own record.  As author-director I was not–and normally would not be–consulted on the matter of the ‘release’ of my film without a press showing.  That this is an ‘odd subterfuge’, I agree; but there can be no speculation as to the responsibility for such a decision.  As to the reason, one can only assume that the distributor was so terrified of what the critics might write about it that a rash attempt was made to evade them altogether and smuggle Touch of Evil directly to the public.  This is understandable in the light of the wholesale re-editing of the film by the executive producer, a process of re-hashing in which I was forbidden to participate.  Confusion was further confounded by several added scenes which I did not write and was not invited to direct.  No wonder Mr Whitebait speaks of muddle.

He is kind enough to say that ‘like Graham Greene’ I have ‘two levels’.  To his charge that I have ‘let the higher slip’ I plead not guilty.  When Mr Greene finishes one of his ‘entertainments’ he is immediately free to set his hand to more challenging enterprises.  His typewriter is always available; my camera is not.  A typewriter needs only paper; a camera uses film, requires subsidiary equipment by the truck-load and several hundreds of technicians.  That is always the central fact about the film-maker as opposed to any other artist: he can never afford to own his own tools.  The minimum kit is incredibly expensive; and one’s opportunities to work with it are rather less numerous than might be supposed.  In my case, I’ve been given the use of my tools exactly eight times in 20 years.  Just once my own editing of the film has been the version put into release; and (excepting the Shakespearean experiments) I have only twice been given any voice at all as to the ‘level’ of my subject matter.  In my trunks stuffed with unproduced film scripts, there are no thrillers.  When I make this sort of picture–for which I can pretend to no special interest or aptitude–it is not ‘for the money’ (I support myself as an actor) but because of a greedy need to exercise, in some way, the function of my choice: the function of director.  Quite badly, this is my only choice.  I have to take whatever comes along from time to time, or accept the alternative, which is not working at all.

Mr Whitebait revives my own distress at the shapeless poverty of Macbeth’s castle.  That papier mâche stagy effect in my film was dictated by a ‘B-minus’ budget with a ‘quickie’ shooting schedule of 20 days.  Returning to the current picture, since he comments on the richness of’ the urban scenery of the Mexican border’ perhaps Mr Whitebait will be amused to learn that all shooting was in Hollywood.  There was no attempt to approximate reality; the film’s entire ‘world’ being the director’s invention.

Finally, while the style of Touch of Evil may be somewhat overly baroque, there are positively no ‘camera tricks’.  Nowadays the eye is tamed, I think, by the new wide screens.  These ‘systems’ with their rigid technical limitations are in such monopoly that any vigorous use of the old black-and-white, normal aperture camera runs the risk of seeming ‘tricky’ by comparison.  The old camera permits of a range of visual conventions as removed from ‘realism’ as grand opera.  This is a language, not a bag of tricks.  If it is now a dead language, as a candid partisan of the old eloquence, I must face the likelihood that I shall not again be able to put it to the service of any theme of my own choosing.

Rome                                                                                                     ORSON WELLES

Peter Cowie in his article on Orson Welles, in Films and Filming of April 1961, wrote in part:

Throughout his career Welles has been supremely skilled in two branches of the medium–technique and the portrayal of characters going to their destruction or downfall against a background that has been in itself fascinating and almost without exception a strong contributory factor to the decline.

Far from being the disorganized wasteful person some claim, Welles showed his mastery of technique during the film of The Trial.  He hired studio, staff and atists and made use of them on a disciplined, factory hour basis, never once asking for something that could not be done and always knowing exactly what he wanted.  As for Cowie’s other observation, one has only to think of Macbeth, Othello and the detective in Touch of Evil to realize how close to the truth it is.

Notes by Oscar C. Burritt

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by Juan Cobos, Miguel Rubio and .A. Pruneda
(recorded in Madrid, May-June-July 1964)
EXCERPTS from a long interview published in Cahiers du Cinema
under the title “Journey in the Country of Don Quixote”


Question:  There is a phrase that John Foster (sic) [Charles Foster Kane] speaks to his banker, which we would very much like to hear you explain: “I could have been a great man, if I had not been so rich”.

Welles:  Good.  The entire story is in that.  It doesn’t matter what destroys greatness: a woman, sickness, wealth.  My hatred of wealth in itself is not an obsession.  I don’t believe that wealth is the only enemy of greatness.  If he had been poor, Kane would not have been a great man, but it is certain that he would have been a successful one.  He thinks that success produces greatness.  (It’s the character who says that, not I.)  Kane attains a certain class, but never greatness.

It’s not because everything seems easy to him.  That is the excuse he offers himself.  But the film doesn’t say that.  Certainly, since he controls one of the largest fortunes in the world, things would be bound to be easier, but his greatest error was that of the big American plutocrats of those years, who believed that money automatically gave a man a certain class.  Kane is a man who truly belongs to his ear.  That type of wealthy man is already almost extinct.  There were plutocrats who believed they could be President of the United States if they wanted to be.  They also believed they could buy everything…The time in which that type of egocentric plutocrat could exist has passed, just as that type of newspaper owner has disappeared.

What is unique in Kane is that he never earned money; throughout his life he only spent it.  He didn’t belong to that group of wealthy people who made their fortunes, he only  spent it.  Kane didn’t even have the responsibility of the true capitalist.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Question:  John Houseman said in an interview that all the credit for Citizen Kane has gone to you, unjustly, in that it should go to Herman J. Mankiewicz, who wrote the scenario.

Welles:  He wrote several important scenes.  (Houseman is an old enemy of mine.)  I was quite lucky to work with Mankiewicz; everything connected with Rosebud is his.  Myself, sincerely, I don’t much like it.  It works, true, but I have never had complete confidence in it.  It’s there to join all the elements together.

I was fortunate to have Gregg Toland, the best director of photography who has ever existed, and I was also fortunate to work with actors who had never been in films before; not one of them had been in front of a camera until then.  They all came from my theatre.  I would never have been able to make Citizen Kane with veteran film actors because they would have immediately asked me, “What are we doing?”  Being a newcomer, I would have put them on their guard and the film would have been botched.  It was possible because I had m own family, so to speak.

Question:  How did you arrive at the cinematic innovations of Citizen Kane?

Welles:  It was due to my ignorance, or, if that word doesn’t seem adequate, my innocence.  I said to myself: “The camera really ought to be able to do that in a normal way”.  The, when we were about to do the first shot, I said: “Let’s do that!”  Gregg Toland replied that it was impossible.  I was stubborn.  “Let’s always try, we’ll see.  Why not?”  We had to make special lenses because there were not then the kind that exist today.

Question:  During the shooting, did you feel that you were making such an important film?

Welles:  I never doubted it for a single instant.

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Question:  Did Citizen Kane earn much money?

Welles:  No, it’s not a question of that.  The film did well.  But my problems with Hollywood began before I arrived there.  The real problem was that contract that gave me complete carte blanche, that they had me sign before my departure.  I had too much power.  At that moment they began a machination against me from which I have never been able to free myself because I have never had a huge box-office success.  From the instant you obtain such a success, you are forgiven everything.

I was luckier than anyone; afterwards I had the worst luck in the history of the cinema, but that’s the way things go: I had to pay for having the most beautiful luck in the history of the cinema.  Never int he Hollywood system had one man been given as much power.  Absolute power.  And artistic control.

Question:  There are filmmakers in Europe who have such power.

Welles:  But they don’t have the imposing technical arsenal that the Americans have.  The camera operator, the lighting men, the man who handles the crane, all have their children at university.  You work alongside men who don’t feel they are labourers but think of themselves as very skilful and well-paid artisans.  That implies an enormous difference.

Everything I did in Touch of Evil, I would never have been able to do elsewhere.  And not only for technical reasons.  It’s essentially a matter of the human skill of the men with whom I worked.  All that comes from their economic security, from the fact that they are well-paid, from the fact that they don’t want to belong to another class.  In all the European film industries, to a greater or lesser degree, one senses a great barrier created by the difference in education.  In all the European countries you are called “Doctor”, “Professor”, etc., if you have been to university.  The big advantage of America is that there you sometimes find directors who have had less schooling than the man who pushes the camera.  There’s no “professor” there.  There are no class differences in the American cinema world.  The pleasure you experience working in America with an American crew is something which has no equivalent on earth.  But you also pay for it.  There have to be producers, and all of them are as bad as the technicians are good.

Question:  How did you shoot that long scene of the interrogation of Sanchez in Marcia’s living room?

Welles:  There are three camera operators in Europe who are as good as the American operators.  The one who made The Trial with me is sensational.  But what is lacking is someone capable of operating the crane.  In America the latter considers himself as important as the cameraman on the film.  In that scene in Marcia’s house there were bout sixty chalk marks on the floor: that indicates how skilful and intelligent the man who guided the camera had to be to do it well.  At that moment I was at his mercy, at the mercy of his precision.  If he can’t do it with that assurance, the shot is impossible.

Question:  Was it Charlton Heston who suggested you as director of Touch of Evil?

Welles:  What happened is more amusing.  The script was suggested to Charlton Heston and he was told that it was by Orson Welles; at the other end of the line, Heston understood that I would direct the film, in which case he was ready to film anything with me.  The man at Universal didn’t explain his mistake, hung up and automatically phoned me to ask if I would direct it.  Heston’s actual words were: “I will work in any film directed by Orson Welles”.  When I was asked to direct the film I made only one condition: that I write my own scenario!  And I directed and wrote the film without receiving a penny, since I was ultimately paid only as an actor.

Question:  In comparison with the original novel you made many changes…

Welles:  My God!  I never read the novel; I only read Universal’s screenplay.  Perhaps the novel made sense, but the screenplay was ridiculous.  It took place in San Diego and not at the Mexican border, which entirely changed the situation.  I made Vargas a Mexican in order to show the political corruption in border cities such as Tijuana.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Welles:  I always begin with the dialogue.  I don’t understand how anyone dares write the action before the dialogue–that is a very odd conception.  I know that in theory the words are secondary in the cinema, but the secret of my work is that everything is based on the dialogue.  I don’t make silent movies.  I have to begin with what the characters say.  I have to knwo what they say before I see what they are doing.

Question:  Nevertheless, the visual element is essential in your films.

Welles:  I agree, but I would not be able to achieve it without the solidity of the dialogue as a base on which to construct the images.  What happens is that after the shooting of the visual components, the words are obscured.  The most classic example is Lady from Shanghai.  The aquarium scene was so visually captivating that nobody hear what was said.  And what was said was, however, the marrow of the film.  It was such a tedious subject that I said to myself, “There must be something beautiful to look at”.  Assuredly, the scene was very beautiful.  It was the first ten minutes of the film with which I was not at all pleased.  When I think of that first part, it’s as if I hadn’t made it.  It looks like any other Hollywood film.  I believe you know the story of Lady from Shanghai.  I was busy working on this idea for a spectacular theatre, with “Around the World in 80 Days”, which, originally, was to have been produced by Mike Todd.  But, between one day and the next, Todd was financially ruined, and I found myself in Boston on the day of the opening, unable to get my costumes from the station because there was $50,000 owing on them.  Without the money we couldn’t open.  At the time, Rita and I were already separated, we were no longer even speaking.  I had no intention of making a film with her.  I put through a call from Boston to Harry Cohn, then head of Columbia, in Hollywood, and said to him: “I have a wonderful story for you, which I’ll sign a contract to make, if you’ll wire me $50,000 within an hour”.  Cohn asks”  “What story?”  I was phoning from the theatre box-office.  There were some pocket books on a table beside me and I gave him the title of one of them, “Lady from Shanghai”.  I said, “Buy the novel and I’ll make the film”.  An hour later we received the money.  Later, I read the book, it was awful, so I began to hurriedly write a story.  I arrived in Hollywood to make the film with a very slender budget and a shooting time of six weeks.  But I wanted to get more money for my theatre.  Cohn asked me why I didn’t shoot the film with Rita.  The latter, when I asked her, was very pleased.  I explained to her that her character was unsympathetic, a murderess, and that it could damage the image the public had of her as a star.  Rita was stubbornly determined to make the film and, instead of $350,000, it cost two million.  Rita was most cooperative.  The one who was frightened, on seeing the film, was Cohn.

Excerpts translated by Robert Huber

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As Film Director (Feature films)

1940  Citizen Kane (Script: Orson Welles, Herman J. Mankiewicz)
1942  The Magnificent Ambersons (Script: Welles; Narrator: Welles)
1942  Journey Into Fear (Script: Welles, Joseph Cotten.  Completed by Norman Foster, who is credited as director)
1946  The Stranger (Script: John Huston, Anthony Veiller)
1947  The Lady from Shanghai (Script: Welles)
1947  Macbeth (Script and Costumes: Welles)
1951  Othello (Script: Welles)
1955  Confidential Report (Mr. Arkadin) (Script, Art Direction, Costumes: Welles)
1958  Touch of Evil (Script: Welles)
1962  Le Proces/The Trial (Script: Welles)

Now working on the film Chimes at Midnight, in Spain.

As Film Actor

1940  Citizen Kane (as Charles Foster Kane; director; Welles)
1942  Journey into Fear (as Colonel Haki; directors: Norman Foster, Welles)
1943  Jane Eyre (as Edward Rochester; director: Robert Stevenson)
1944  Follow the Boys (revue turn with Marlene Dietrich; director: Eddie Sutherland)
1945  Tomorrow and Forever (as John Macdonald; director: Irving Pichel)
1946  The Stranger (as Franz Kindler/Charles Rankin; director: Welles)
1947  Black Magic (as Cagliostro; director: Gregory Ratoff)
1947  The Lady from Shanghai (as Michael O’Hara; director: Welles)
1947  Macbeth (as Macbeth; director: Welles)
1948  Prince of Foxes (as Cesar Borgia; director: Henry King)
1948  The Third Man (as Harry Lime; director: Carol Reed)
1950  The Black Rose (as General Bayan; director: Henry Hathaway)
1951  Othello (as Othello; director: Welles)
1953  Trent’s Last Case (as Sigabee Manderson; director: Herbert Wilcox)
1953  Si Versailles M’etait Conte (as Benjamin Franklin; director: Sacha Guiltry)
1953  L’uomo, La Bestia E La Virtu (as The Beast; director: Steno)
1954  Npoleon (as Hudson Lowe; director: Sacha Guiltry)
1954  Three Cases of Murder (as Lord Mountdrago; Episode director: George More O’Ferrall)
1955  Confidential Report (Mr. Arkadin)  (as Gregory Arkadin; director: Welles)
1955  Trouble in the Glen (as Sanin Cejador y Mengues; director: Herbert Wilcox)
1956  Moby Dick (as Father Mapple; director: John Huston)
1957  Pay the Devil (as Virgil Renckler; director; Jack Arnold)
1957  The Long Hot Summer (as Varner; director: Martin Ritt)
1958  Touch of Evil (as Hank Quinlan; director: Welles)
1958  The Roots of Heaven (as Cy Sedgwick; director: John Huston)
1958  Compulsion (as Jonathan Wilk; director: Richard Fleischer)
1959  David E Golia (as Saul; directors: Richard Pottier, Ferdinando Baldi)
1959  Ferry to Hong Kong (as Captain Hart; director: Lewis Gilbert)
1960  Austerlitz (as Fulton; director: Abel Gance)
1960  Crack in the Mirror (as Hagolin and Lamorcière; director: Richard Fleischer)
1960  I Tartari (as Burundai; director: Richard Thorpe)
1961  Lafayette (as Benjamin Franklin; director: Jean Dréville)
1962  Le Proces/The Trial (as The Advocate Hastler; director: Welles)
1963  The V.I.P.s (as Max Buda; director: Anthony Asquith)

Miscellaneous (Film)

1939  Prepared film scripts from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Nicholas Blake’s The Smiler with a Knife
1942  In South America, began shooting a film trilogy, It’s all True, never completed.
1946  Worked with Mike Todd on a film project for Around the World in 80 Days, eventually turned into a stage musical
1947  His film script The Landru Story furnished the basic argument for Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdou
1950  Directed a short film, Le Miracle De Sainte Anne, included in his stage play, “The Unthinking Lobster”
1951  Actor and narrator in Hilton Edwards’ short film, Return to Glennascaul
1954  Began work on a film, Don Quixote, as yet uncompleted
1961  Narrator on Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings
1964  Narrator on The Finest Hours

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

1934  Organized The Woodstock Drama Festival
1937  Founded, with John Houseman, The Mercury Theatre

* The above list is selected from Checklist 10 – Orson Welles, published by Monthly Film Bulletin, January and February, 1964.  MFB gives events of Welles’ career in stage production (27), stage performances (48), television and radio, publishing, writing, lecturing, making gramophone records, designing sets and costumes, and book illustration.  The complete Checklist occupies 3½ pages.

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