Rating: The Good – 87.8 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 93 mins Director: Carol Reed Stars: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli
Carol Reed may be credited with the direction of this noir masterpiece but Orson Welles’ fingerprints are all over it. Joseph Cotten stars as the American writer who arrives in post-war Vienna to stay with a friend only to learn he’s been killed in an apparent accident. The more he learns however the more he suspects foul play but his investigations soon get him into trouble with the mismatch of British, American, Russian, and French law enforcement. It’s a thrilling story that zips along and thanks to the unorthodox camera angles and sublime use of shadow the viewer is kept in a state of disorientation that mirrors Cotten’s state of mind. The final act involves some of the most seminal photography in film history as that most riveting of chases through the sewers of the city unfolds. Full of wit and intrigue, Graham Greene’s script is the equal of the Reed’s direction and with the arrival of the Welles’ character, it enters into a league of its own. That combined with the seminal direction ensures that The Third Man is rightly remembered as one of the very best films noir.
Rating: The Good – 83.3 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 115 mins Director: Orson Welles Stars: Orson Welles, Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young
One of Orson Welles’ more mainstream directorial offerings but a neat little film-noir nonetheless, The Stranger stars the man himself as a professor of history in an esteemed school and general upstanding leader of his tight-knit community. His life seems idyllic until an old friend comes to visit, bringing with him a relentless Nazi-hunter (Edward G Robinson) who believes the respected professor is a former high ranking concentration camp commander in hiding.
The Stranger has all the hallmarks of a great Welles film just in far fewer numbers. It begins with definite echoes of The Third Man (hinting he had indeed more than just acting duties on that picture) as we are served a beautifully shot yet ambiguous scene that sets the tone for what is to come. However, almost immediately we are transported to leafy Connecticut which might as well be another planet. Though the film loses most of its visually noirish feel from this point on, the switch still counts as something of a masterstroke, for nothing is as it seems. But with the arrival of Robinson’s character, the veil is steadily lifted.
The Stranger is not on a par with Citizen Kane or Touch of Evil, but it is an excellent film in its own right, marked by the story-telling flourishes we typically associate with Welles. The ending too is something which again evokes memories of The Third Man as the stakes are raised in fitting fashion. On the acting front Welles is as magnetic as ever but like the film as a whole, in a more subdued fashion. Moreover, his performance is complemented nicely by Robinson’s iron-hand/kit-glove to whom the film owes most of its charm. Welles counted The Stranger as his least favourite film, which isn’t too surprising given the lack of aesthetic flair and dark exploration compared to him more famous work. However, what it lacks in that department, it makes up for in sheer entertainment, for The Stranger is an exceedingly enjoyable thriller.
Rating: The Good – 91.8 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 95 mins Director: Orson Welles Stars: Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh
Charlton Heston heads up this classic piece of American cinema as a Mexican narcotics officer, Vargas, who clashes with his cross border counterpart, the loathsome Captain Quinlan, played with relish by writer-director Orson Welles. Though Vargas is ostensibly the lead character, the film inevitably builds around Quinlan as he manipulates and bullies all around him and crosses the line between legal and illegal as often as the Mexican border itself. If Heston is excellent as the honourable Vargas (and he is), then Welles is astonishing as the ambiguous, brutal, intelligent, barely coherent, and deeply disturbed detective who targets Vargas and his glamourous wife (played wonderfully by Janet Leigh) when the former accuses him of planting evidence.
Touch of Evil is a truly mesmerising piece of film making as Orson Welles gives a masterclass not only from in front of the camera but from behind it too. Rarely has a film had a more distinctive look, sound, and feel as this, as Welles’ use of shadows (both darting and still), staging, and fast and slow dolly shots are set against an ever present soundtrack of Latin or Rock ‘n’ Roll music and the hustle and bustle of the busy border town. This sense of busyness is carried over into the dialogue as the characters constantly talk over each other, a device that also adds to the general sense of murkiness. The result is a pervading awareness of space (both physical and psychological) as well as a heightened complexity of the plot. All this makes Touch of Evil perhaps the greatest of all film-noir and one hell of a captivating thriller to boot. There are a number of versions of this film doing the rounds thanks to the interference from the movie studios but the closest to Welles’ original is most likely the 111 minute cut that was “restored” and released in 1998.
Rating: The Good – 78.2 Genre: War, Satire Duration: 122 mins Director: Mike Nichols Stars: Alan Arkin, Martin Balsam, Orson Welles
One of the great anti-war statements, Mike Nichols film adaption of Joseph Heller’s acerbic and outlandish satire is a tour de force in every respect. Alan Arkin couldn’t have been better as bombardier Capt. Yossarian, whose attempts to avoid duty due to insanity run afoul of a strange clause in airforce regulations. The supporting performances are equally sterling and there is an array of talent on show as nearly every big name from that era features to excellent effect. Catch-22 isn’t about story or plot but rather it attempts to frame the varied experiences of war from a distant and more clinical perspective and in doing so explore the construct of war in both heartfelt and hilarious ways. It’s completely refreshing and unlike anything we’ve seen in this genre and for that reason alone it’s probably worth a look. But like all great satires, once you go beyond the humour, there are some deeply cutting and perennially pertinent inferences to be made.
Rating: The Good – 92.7 Genre: Drama, Mystery Duration: 119 mins Director: Orson Welles Stars: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore
Orson Welles’ astonishing debut sits at the top of many critics’ list of greatest films and it’s not difficult to see why if you bear in mind that nearly everything that Welles tried in the shooting of this picture was new and previously untried. Citizen Kane follows the story of Charles Foster Kane who torn away from his family as a child grows up to be one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world. The film pieces together in seamless fashion the clues to explain the dark reaches of this man’s psyche all in an attempt to explain one of cinema’s greatest mysteries, the meaning of his last words. Welles’ acting is simply thunderous as he embodies the essence of ruthless success and there isn’t one member of the supporting cast that lets the side down. However, it’s the technical aspects to this film that make it so very special. Every scene in this film was masterfully conceived from Welles’ use of lighting and camera angles to the editing that knitted them all together. Citizen Kane is nothing short of an explosive celebration of cinematic innovation that more than any film before it or since changed the medium forever.
Rating: The Good – 75.3 Genre: Crime, Satire Duration: 103 mins Director: Richard Fleischer Stars: Dean Stockwell, Bradford Dillman, Orson Welles
Richard Fleischer serves up a worthy take on the Leopold and Loeb case starring Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell as two blue blood overachievers who decide their superior intellects entitle them to the privileged experience of murder. However, it’s not long before the clues they inadvertently leave behind and their low emotional intelligence betray their perfect plan. With the arrival of Orson Welles as their defence attorney, the film then takes an unusual turn and attempts to parallel their premeditated killing with the prosecution’s case for the death penalty as Welles’ character attempts to help them avoid just that.
Compulsion is really two films in one, maybe even three. Like Hitchcock’s Rope (which was based on the same case), it picks up directly after the murder and as the two men gloat their way home, the dynamics of their relationship are revealed. Dillman is the leader while Stockwell follows. However, unlike Farley Granger’s character in Rope, Stockwell’s sinister streak is more exposed and he has some claws too. This opening act progresses at a leisurely pace as killers’ personalities are further revealed during their interactions with their wider circle of college friends. It delves deep into the killers’ psyches and pulls no punches in its conclusions. The homosexuality is only really skirted around and, thankfully, their personalities and intellectual failings are implicated as more likely causes. This gives Compulsion a rather perceptive quality and ranks it above most serial killer films. The two leads give their characters’ skewed view on reality a chilling credibility even if Stockwell’s contribution is sometimes dialled a tad high.
The court case is a dramatic change of pace culminating in a protracted monologue elegantly delivered by Welles and with Fleischer using a well constructed extended cut to pay homage to Hitchcock’s earlier Rope. Welles makes a massive contribution to this film and from the moment he makes his trademark boisterous entrance, he almost single handedly slows the pace of the film down to match the more weighty and considered final act which is about to begin. To turn an intriguing and clinical examination of two killers on its head and partially humanise them was a very brave decision and it can catch one off guard. Of course, there’s no better time to make a controversial argument and it’s fair to say that Richard Murphy’s intelligent and eloquent monologue drives the nail home in damning fashion. It’s to everyone’s credit that the killers aren’t let off the hook while this is going on and that integrity is maintained and indeed championed right through to the end.
Compulsion isn’t perfect. It can feel slightly trite at times and there’s an even slighter underlying confusion as to what type of film it wants to be. It opens with a strikingly comical vignette wherein, the filmmakers seem to be laughing at the two young men. It then shoots straight as a typical detective story would and then, after a more earnest final act, it closes with that same sarcasm it demonstrated in the opening scene. It’s not that these different approaches can’t be mixed, it’s just that Fleischer didn’t really massage them together cogently enough. That said, even if it is somewhat confused, the film has personality and it tells one hell of a compelling story while giving the audience much to consider.
Rating: The Good – 73.9 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 87 mins Director: Orson Welles Stars: Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Everett Sloane
Orson Welles saw many of his films butchered in the cutting room at the request of angry execs and The Lady From Shanghai is one of the more interesting examples. An awesomely shot and at times near inscrutable plot with baffling dialogue and widely eccentric characters, there’s something undeniably compelling about this film-noir. Welles stars as an Irish sailor and veteran of the Spanish civil war, Michael O’Hara, who becomes embroiled in the in-fighting and politics of a small group of people when he agrees to sail their boat down to Mexico. The attraction on this particular boat is Rita Hayworth, a blond bombshell whom O’Hara rescues from a mugging at the beginning of the film and wife of a rich, successful, but crippled lawyer played with twisted relish by Everette Sloane. However, the more familiar he becomes with the group, the more he is reeled into something sinister culminating in murder.
Welles’ awful “approximation” of an Irish accent does begin to grate after a while given that he not only plays the lead, but that character also narrates us through the film. However, he brings enough of his typical charisma to the part to offset much of that annoyance. Hayworth is striking in a role many thought would ruin her career due to the dramatic change in hair colour and she adds to the general air of mystery as the seductive counterpoint to her husband and his cronies.
The Lady From Shanghai is full of Welles’ directorial flourishes from overlapping dialogue to the magnificent use of shadow and staging. The finale which takes place in a house of mirrors is particularly memorable though by some accounts, it was slashed considerably when Welles turned in a 155 minute cut. The exotic settings create a thick atmosphere which is entirely complementary of the dense mystery at the centre of the story and add in no small way to its romantic tensions. The South American context has served many a classic noir well and despite it being somewhat generalised, there are some lovely sequences reminiscent of the Mexican scenes in Touch of Evil.
The plot can be difficult to track due to some poor sound mixing during some of the more intensive dialogue driven scenes, the strangeness of the plot itself, as well as the characters playing it out. But somehow, despite all this, there’s a quirky yet compelling vibe to the film as it whisks us from one exotic locale to another revealing shadowy glimpses of the plot as it goes. It’s not at the level of Welles’ great works but The Lady From Shanghai does make for a unique noir with many interesting qualities.