Citizen Kane – 70th Anniversary

May 2011 is the 70th anniversary of ther release of Citizen Kane, widely considered the greatest motion picture ever made. Orson Welles’ artistic genius cannot be denied, and it should be considered this genius is both a product and ahead of its time. The film originally raised controversy for its less than favorable portrayal of media mogul William Randolph Hearst. However the greatness of the film has outlasted Hearst’s own influence. The character of Charles Foster Kane as a mirror of Hearst is well known. What is less apparent are the parallels between Kane and Welles’ life. Kane was born into poverty in his parent’s boarding house in Colorado. When a piece of worthless land belonging to his mother yields “the world’s third largest gold mine,” she has young Kane sent to the East for his education as a ward of Mr. Bernstein, a banker. When Kane gains full control of his inheritance at the relatively young age of 25 he dedicates his fortune to building a newspaper empire based on

The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent Ambersons was Welles’ follow-up to Citizen Kane , and like the former, it dealt with power and with the gradual rise and fall of those who have it. In this case, however, the focus was on a family, the Ambersons, whose greatness began with Major Amberson and which has prospered in the automobile business. The protagonist is George Minafer, the Major’s grandson. George struggles with his identity and place in the family as parents and aunts and uncles pass away, leaving him the heir to and guardian of the family’s magnificence. The family wealth dissipates, leaving George a manual laborer. The screenplay, which Welles wrote, was based on Booth Tarkington’s 1920 novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize but had mostly slipped into the mists of time. By choosing it, Orson showed he was still drawn to works concerning a male protagonist who lost his parents, in succession, at a relatively young age. He was also concerned with the simple beauty and innocence of bygone

Journey Into Fear

Journey Into Fear was one of the many projects Orson Welles worked on from 1939-’43, though he did not direct the film. He co-wrote the screenplay, produced the movie, and played a small role in it. An action film, Journey Into Fear is densely packed with the dangerous mishaps of its protagonist, Howard Graham, an American armaments engineer collaborating with the Turkish navy. In an Istanbul nightclub, Graham is smitten with a dancer. Meanwhile, a bullet with his name on it accidentally finds its home in the club’s magician. This causes the entrance of Colonel Haki, the chief of the Turkish secret police. Haki arranges Graham’s passage on a steamer to Bakumi, and from there, plot twists abound. Norman Foster, director The circumstances under which Norman Foster was tapped by Welles to direct Journey Into Fear were unusual and a forbidding, and may help explain why the project was not more successful. Foster was an actor with several credits and a longing to direct. Welles g

It's All True

The intended follow-up to The Magnificent Ambersons, It’s All True, never saw the light of day. The film received only a portion of Welles’ energies during its production, was plagued by mishaps, and was the subject of much sparring between Welles and RKO. The idea for It’s All True was for Welles to film a series of an ingenious and thoroughly eclectic melange of documentary material and fictional narratives meant to tie together all of the Americas. Included would be a look at the development of jazz, in which, chiefly (as best we can tell) Duke Ellington was to tell the story of Louis Armstrong; the story of the courtship of Italian writer John Fante’s parents in San Francisco; “My Friend Bonito,” in which the possessive pronoun signified a young boy, with Bonito being a bull. Welles conceived of these stories during the infancy of his work on The Magnificent Ambersons. He knew Ambersons was the more viable project, so he went ahead with it, placing It’s All True in the posit

The Stranger

This 1946 International Pictures film was directed by Welles and written by Anthony Veiller and Victor Trivas. It concerns a Nazi war criminal who slips the bonds of Europe at war’s end eventually makes it Connecticut. He tries to settle into a new life, but is, of course, occupied with fighting the war crimes commissioner chasing him. Welles burst into the public eye as a wunderkind, and saw great popularity in theatre in the late 30’s. He appeared on the radio, with his infamous “The War of the Worlds” experience being just one of his many escapades. And he of course new great success with Citizen Kane. However, from the start, he had an uneasy relationship with Hollywood. His politics, which included rumors of communist activities, and his antagonism toward film benefactor William Randolph Hearst, caused him such unpopularity that he was booed at the Oscar ceremony at which Kane was nominated for many awards. Within the studios themselves, he started as an outsider and

The Lady From Shanghai

This 1947 action thriller was directed by Welles, starring him and Rita Hayworth , with whom he was at the time of shooting, going through a divorce . The story is one of people being thrown oddly together and navigating bizarre twists. Michael O’Hara (Welles) saves the life of the gorgeous Elsa Bannister (Hayworth) and her husband, Arthur (Everett Sloane) endeavors to reward him with a job on his yacht. Enter George Grisby, Michael’s partner, who wants to stage his own murder to commit life insurance fraud, and offers Michael five grand to confess. What ensues is a many-layered tale of deceit and manipulation, the plot thickening repeatedly. Lady was adapted from William Castle’s novel If I Die Before I Wake, with many changes from Welles. It was financed by Harry Cohn, co-founder, president, and production manager of Columbia Pictures. Welles biographer Barbara Leaming charges that Cohn was notoriously lecherous, using a letter opener to arrange a peek under the skirts o


Having already staged Shakespeare’s MacBeth more than once on the stage, in 1948, Welles endeavored to bring it to the silver screen. The result is a Republic Pictures release directed by Welles with him also starring as MacBeth, with Jeanette Nolan as Lady Macbeth, and with Dan O’Herlihy and Roddy McDowall. John L. Russell handled the cinematography. As was the case with the Mercury Theatre production, Welles took great liberties, greatly re-working the play. He retained some of the voodoo aesthetic of the play, along with garish costumes. Charles Higham reports that the actors were annoyed with Welles’ grueling working days and some of his usual directorial antics. This results, in Higham’s opinion, in performances that “seldom rise above the amateur.” On the other hand, says Higham, “the movie creates a world of its own, another expression of Welles’s extraordinary talent--a world of rain, fog and stones...we explore a labyrinth that effectively mirrors MacBeth’s ow