Whatever you think of Orson Welles (seen above as Harry Lime in 1949’s The Third Man) you must admit that the guy provoked during his life waves of speculation about his work — as well as the man himself. And increasingly a lot of what is still being written (more than 30 years after his death) is somewhat critical about both.
In any event, evaluations of Welles’ finest work are shifting in interesting ways.
Welles’ first movie, 1941’s Citizen Kane, is no longer necessarily regarded as his finest. Consider: the highly respected British movie journal Sight & Sound has been polling international critics and directors every 10 years since 1952, asking them to identify the best movies of all time.
Citizen Kane took over as the critics’ No. 1 choice in the five Sight & Sound polls from 1962 through 2002. It reigned supreme as “the greatest” for a half century. Not any more. Results from the last poll four years ago demoted Kane to the No. 2 spot, replaced in the top spot by 1958’s Vertigo, directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
And judging by biographer Simon Callow’s latest work, Orson Welles: One-Man Band, some of the director’s later work is being re-assessed. He notes, for example, that 1955’s Mr. Arkadin has sparked passionate defences and rehabilitations after years of being totally dismissed, while Welles’ adaptation of Franz Kafka, 1962’s The Trial, is losing ground. And 1958’s Touch of Evil is now rightly elevated to classic thriller status.
But Callow reserves a special place for 1965’s Chimes at Midnight, featuring an all-star cast of European actors (Jeanne Moreau, Margaret Rutherford, John Gielgud, Fernando Rey, Keith Baxter) with Welles himself playing Falstaff to Baxter’s Prince Hal.
Welles scripted the adaptation of Shakespeare’s historical works, which tell of the Prince Hal’s elevation to the throne as Henry V, and his subsequent abandoning his longtime friendship with dissolute Falstaff.
Chimes at Midnight was the picture he had in his heart, Welles told interviewers. Writes Callow, himself an experienced actor: Welles’ performance as Falstaff as one of the finest things — if not the finest thing — he ever did as an actor.
Welles himself later confided: If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of one movie, That’s the one I would offer up.
Up until now, the movie going public has been much less enthusiastic. But that’s changing. In January, Richard Brody, writing in The New Yorker, declared 2016 The year of ‘Chimes at Midnight.’ Brody was heralding a fresh restoration of the movie — until recently hard to get in a decent home video version — and the theatrical opening of a fully restored print in New York.
If Shakespeare hadn’t create (the character of) Falstaff, Welles would have had to invent him, wrote Brody. Chimes at Midnight — Is it now considered Welles best film? Just asking. (Below is Orson on the set of his 1973 film F for Fake.)
Who are those people in western duds? In yesterday’s quiz, we asked you to identify three individuals in a “who replaced who” scenario regarding a reasonably big-time Hollywood film. If you identified Judy Garland (first picture, holding a rifle) and Howard Keel and Betty Hutton in tandem in the second photo, you are correct.
The movie in question was the 1950 musical Annie Get Your Gun. Garland was originally cast as Annie Oakley but soon fell out with director George Sidney. In protest, Garland started pulling no shows, which MGM refused to put up with. Enter Hutton in Garland’s role with stalwart Keel still on hand. P.S.: Hutton received plaudits for her performance, and you receive plaudits as well if you got all answers right.