1934: The Hearts of Age (16mm short) (co-director). 1938: Too Much Johnson (+co-producer, scenarist/scriptwriter) (unedited, not shown publicly, destroyed in 1970 fire). 1941: Citizen Kane (+producer, co-scenarist/scriptwriter, role as Charles Foster Kane). 1942: The Magnificent Ambersons (+producer, scenarist/scriptwriter); It's All True (+producer, co-scenarist/scriptwriter) (not completed and never shown). 1943: Journey into Fear (co-director, uncredited, producer, co-scenarist/scriptwriter, role as Colonel Haki). 1946: The Stranger (+co-scenarist/scriptwriter,uncredited, role as Franz Kindler, alias Professor Charles Rankin). 1948: The Lady from Shanghai (+scenarist/scriptwriter,role as Michael O'Hara) (produced in 1946); Macbeth (+producer, scenarist/scriptwriter, co-costumes, role as Macbeth). 1952: Othello (+producer, scenarist/scriptwriter, role as Othello and narration). 1955: Mr. Arkadin (Confidential Report) (+scenarist/scriptwriter, art director, costumes, role as Gregory Arkadin and narration); Don Quixote (+co-producer, scenarist/scriptwriter, assistant cinematographer, role as himself and narration) (not completed). 1958: Touch of Evil (+scenarist/scriptwriter, role as Hank Quinlan). 1962: Le Proc?s (The Trial) (+scenarist/scriptwriter, role as Hastler and narration). 1966: Chimes at Midnight (Falstaff) (+scenarist/scriptwriter, costumes, role as Sir John Falstaff). 1968: The Immortal Story (+scenarist/scriptwriter, role as Mr. Clay). 1970: The Deep (+scenarist/scriptwriter, role as Russ Brewer). 1972: The Other Side of the Wind (+scenarist/scriptwriter) (filming begun in 1972, uncompleted). 1975: F for Fake (+scenarist/scriptwriter).
1937: The Spanish Earth (Ivens) (original narration). 1940: Swiss Family Robinson (Ludwig) (off-screen narration). 1943: Jane Eyre (R. Stevenson) (role as Edward Rochester). 1944: Follow the Boys (Sutherland) (revue appearance with Marlene Dietrich). 1945: Tomorrow is Forever (Pichel) (role as John McDonald). 1946: Duel in the Sun (Vidor) (off-screen narration). 1947: Black Magic (Ratoff) (role as Cagliostro). 1948: Prince of Foxes (role as Cesare Borgia). 1949: The Third Man (Reed) (role as Harry Lime). 1950: The Black Rose (Hathaway) (role as General Bayan). 1951: Return to Glennascaul (Edwards) (role as himself). 1953: Trent's Last Case (Wilcox) (role as Sigsbee Manderson); Si Versailles m'?tait cont? (Guitry) (role as Benjamin Franklin); L'uomo, la bestia e la virtu (Steno) (role as the beast). 1954: Napol?on (Guitry) (role as Hudson Lowe); ?Lord Mountdrago? segment of Three Cases of Murder (O'Ferrall) (role as Lord Mountdrago). 1955: Trouble in the Glen (Wilcox) (role as Samin Cejador y Mengues); Out of Darkness (documentary) (narrator). 1956: Moby Dick (Huston) (role as Father Mapple). 1957: Pay the Devil (Arnold) (role as Virgil Renckler); The Long Hot Summer (Ritt) (role as Will Varner). 1958: The Roots of Heaven (Huston) (role as Cy Sedgwick); Les Seigneurs de la for?t (Sielman and Brandt) (off-screen narration); The Vikings (Fleischer) (narration). 1959: 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). 1960: Austerlitz (Gance) (role as Fulton); Crack in the Mirror (Fleischer) (role as Hagolin/Lamorci?re); I tartari (Thorpe) (role as Barundai). 1961: Lafayette (Dr?ville) (role as Benjamin Franklin); King of Kings (Ray) (off-screen narration); D?sordre (short) (role). 1962: Der grosse Atlantik (documentary) (narrator). 1963: The V.I.P.s (Asquith) (role as Max Buda); Rogopag (Pasolini) (role as the film director). 1964: L'Echiquier de Dieu (La Fabuleuse Aventure de Marco Polo) (de la Patelli?re) (role as Ackermann); The Finest Hours (Baylis) (narrator). 1965: The Island of Treasure (J. Franco) (role); A King's Story (Booth) (narrator). 1966: Is Paris Burning? (Cl?ment) (role); A Man for All Seasons (Zinnemann) (role as Cardinal Wolsey). 1967: Casino Royale (Huston and others) (role); The Sailor from Gibralter (Richardson) (role); I'll Never Forget Whatshisname (Winner) (role). 1968: Oedipus the King (Saville) (role as Tiresias); Kampf um Rom (role as Emperor Justinian); The Southern Star (Hayers) (role). 1969: Tepepa (role); Barbed Water (documentary) (narrator); Una su 13 (role); Michael the Brave (role); House of Cards (Guillermin) (role). 1970: 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). 1971: Directed by John Ford (Bogdanovich) (narrator); Sentinels of Silence (narrator); A Safe Place (Jaglom) (role). 1972: 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). 1973: Necromancy (Gordon) (role). 1975: Bugs Bunny Superstar (Jones) (narrator). 1976: Challenge of Greatness (documentary) (narrator); Voyage of the Damned (Rosenberg) (role). 1977: It Happened One Christmas (Thomas) (for TV) (role). 1979: The Late Great Planet Earth (on-camera narrator); The Muppet Movie (Frawley) (role as J.P. Morgan); Tesla (role as Yug). 1981: Butterfly (Cimber) (role as the judge); The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (Guenette) (role). 1984: Where is Parsifal? (Helman) (role); Almonds and Raisins (Karel) (narrator). 1985: Genocide (Schwartzman) (narrator). 1987: Someone to Love (Jaglom) (role).
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 documentary It's All True, 1942, then Welles and his staff were removed from RKO; directed The Lady from Shanghai for Columbia Studios, 1947; directed Macbeth for Republic Pictures, 1948; moved to Europe, 1949; completed only one more film in United States, Touch of Evil, 1958; appeared in advertisements, and continued to act, from 1960s.
20th Anniversary Tribute, Cannes Festival, 1966; Honorary Academy Award, for ?Superlative artistry and versatility in the creation of motion pictures,? 1970; Life Achievement Award, American Film Institute, 1975; Fellowship of the British Film Institute, 1983.
Kenosha, Wisconsin, 6 May 1916.
Attended Todd School in Woodstock, Illinois, 1926-31.
Married 1) Virginia Nicholson, 1934 (divorced 1939), one son; 2) Rita Hayworth, 1943 (divorced 1947), one daughter; 3) Paola Mori, 1955, one daughter.
In Hollywood, 10 October 1985.
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 which 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-sc?ne, 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 box-office 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 Mario 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 that foreshadows his destruction?the newsreel sequence in Kane, the opening 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-sc?ne, 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.?SUSAN DOLL