Combustible Celluloid

Orson Welles at the Castro


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ask any film buff to compile a list of the ten greatest directors of all time, and Orson Welles' name is sure to come up. Yet most film buffs are only aware of his first film, Citizen Kane. And even if they did know that Welles completed a dozen more films before his death in 1984, his career is still seen as one of decline, as if he never reached the heights of that first film ever again.

That's patently wrong, as proven by the Castro Theater's new 12-day Welles retrospective. Sadly, the retrospective only includes eight of Welles 13 films as director (it's missing Macbeth, Othello, Chimes at Midnight, The Immortal Story and Filming Othello) but it does include two of his most famous acting roles for other directors: The Third Man and Compulsion.

Cannily, the Castro begins the retrospective with Kane, but pairs it up with one of Welles' most enjoyable and least known films, F for Fake (1973). This quasi-documentary explores fakery in all its forms, notably through Welles himself and his notorious 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast, as well as through art forger Elmyr de Hory. (But the film itself is also a kind of trick.) The superb, rapid-fire editing alone should earn the film a ranking in the annals of history. Best of all, it will be shown in a new 35mm print.

Next we have The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), which is known for having been butchered before its release while Welles was out of the country. But that reputation should not stop people from seeing it, even in its 88-minute version. It's still an astoundingly beautiful film about loss and nostalgia. The film will be shown in a new 35mm print.

A double-bill of two crime films, The Stranger (1946) and Touch of Evil (1958), comes next. The Stranger was Welles attempt to make a mainstream money-earner (with a screenplay by John Huston), but it was too arty for the mainstream and not arty enough for Welles fans, so it remains one of his lesser works. It's presented here in a new 35mm restoration. Touch of Evil is Welles' best-known film outside of Kane, and the Castro is showing Walter Murch's excellent 1998 re-edited version.

Going for a kind of courtroom theme, The Trail (1962) is then paired with Compulsion (1959). The Trial was produced by European money and it's one of the few films after Kane over which Welles retained some kind of control. Based on the Kafka novel, it flows with an eerie dream logic but it's also one of Welles' funniest films. Anthony Perkins gives a terrific performance as the paranoid "K" and Jeanne Moreau and Welles appear in smaller roles. Directed by Richard Fleischer, Compulsion, tells the story of the 1920s Leopold-Loeb murder case with Welles in a small role as the Clarence Darrow character.

Two globe-hopping films follow, the excellent film noir The Lady from Shanghai (1948) -- co-starring Welles' ex-wife Rita Hayworth and featuring the famous San Francisco Playland finale -- and the underappreciated Mr. Arkadin (a.k.a. Confidential Report) (1955). The Lady from Shanghai will be shown in a new 35mm print.

The retrospective closes with The Third Man (1949), Carol Reed's great exotic thriller in which Welles steals the show as Harry Lime. Though the film abounds with Welles-like camera angles, his only behind-the-scenes contribution was the famous "cuckoo clock" speech. The Third Man was restored and re-released a few years ago, and the Castro presents this new print.

For more information, go to the Castro Theater's homepage.

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