Orson Welles was a true master of cinema. He was a larger than life character who lived for film. Welles was a cinematic savant, a man who organically knew the language of the medium. After a career on the stage and radio, he exploded onto the film scene in 1941 with Citizen Kane. It’s widely regarded as the greatest film ever made – and rightly so. The film pushes boundaries in a story and visual level, detailing the rise and fall of a man who would stop at nothing to achieve what he believed in. Much like Welles himself in fact. The filmmaker was a Quixote-type character, always chasing the next movie, the next dream. Hollywood shunned him as his tastes became less commercial and he was forced to turn to Europe to fund his projects. He would borrow and scrape together funding in order to raise the cash to make his next film. Sometimes money would dry up and he’d be forced to move on, often returning to a project after several years to complete it. However, he always persisted and nothing would stop him from working on a variety of splendid and unlikely pictures throughout his career.
2015 would mark Orson Welles 100th birthday and to celebrate Mr Bongo Films is releasing three of Welles’ lesser known films. Too Much Johnson is a silent 60 minute piece which was originally part of a 1939 stage production of Henry Gillette’s story of the same name. Technical issues meant that the film never screened and the film was thought to be lost forever until it was discovered in Italy in 2008. The Immortal Story is another 60 minute curio that sees Welles play a dying shipping magnate who wants to make an old sailor urban myth a reality. Falstaff/Chimes At Midnight is a William Shakespeare adaption that takes one of the Bard’s minor characters and places him front and centre.
Be aware that these may be lesser know Welles efforts, but that doesn’t make them lesser films (does such a sthing even exist?). As a director he was able to infuse a sense of poignancy and a visual flare that few have been able to replicate. The budgets may have decreased from when he made his debut with Citizen Kane but Welles vision remained unfettered.
Too Much Johnson
This screwball farce starring frequent Welles collaborator Joseph Cotton. Too Much Johnson was supposed to be screened along with Welles’ staging of Henry Gillette’s tale. Budgetary and technical issues meant that it never played as part of the live action stage performance but the visuals and technical skill on show once again illustrates Welles’ mastery of the technical aspects of filmmaking.
The Immortal Story
Based on Isak Dinesen’s tale, The Immortal Story is a tense Tales Of The Unexpected-style drama which sees Jeanne Moreau star as a woman hired to sleep with a sailor in order to satisfy the whim of a rich shipping merchant. Shot in a dreamlike verite, Welles’ film pushes boundaries with storytelling and themes. It’s unconventional editing gives it a strong European theme and it’s another reminder of Welles’ power in front of and behind the camera.
Falstaff/Chimes At Midnight
Epic in scope and storytelling, Chimes and Midnight is Welles delivering the type of film he excels at. The budget might not be there but he delivers a strong quirky adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V. Welles gives a superb performance in the film which features an imprecise cast that includes John Gielgud, Fernando Ray, Margaret Rutherford and Ralph Richardson.