Archive for My Lunches with Orson

My theory, Part 1: Welles = Universal Horror

Posted in Comics, FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2013 by dcairns

wellesrichardiiiIt was at Norman Lloyd’s house that we saw this Al Hirschfeld cartoon, published in the New York Herald Tribune in 1938, predicting the roles to be taken on the New York stage by the leading players that fall.

Norman is top left — Hirschfeld always drew him this way, though Fiona thought it a dubious likeness.

Orson Welles is dead centre, as Richard III with flat-topped head and lank black wig. In the end he never played the role, something he blames John Houseman for, I believe, in My Lunches with Orson.

But the image suggests to me Boris Karloff, and ties in with my theory that Welles was influenced, probably in childhood, by the Universal school of horror.

Was Karloff’s monster a good model for Richard III? Possibly not — the personalities are quite different. But Welles’ putative performance as the disfigured, limping king might easily have been influenced by the monster, who had so recently returned to the screen in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. And there is at least one image in existence of a teenage Welles playing Richard on stage at the Todd School with a big, built-up head like the one in Hirschfeld’s cartoon.

Then there’s the Mercury Theater radio production of Dracula, which owes nothing much to the Universal movie but certainly displays a keen interest in, and aptitude for, gothic horror.

CITIZEN KANE’s opening has much of the feel of a ’30s horror film — Xanadu is not only dark, looking, shadowy and surrounded by desolation, it is a painting, like Castle Dracula. If few were convinced by Pauline Kael’s suggestion that Welles’ old-age make-up bore the influence of Peter Lorre’s Gogol from MAD LOVE, we can at least agree that part of the movie’s style is at times somewhat Gothic — and this fed into the 1943 JANE EYRE, which Welles influenced greatly (though he disparages the production in My Dinners with Orson.

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And Welles’ MACBETH would be the clincher — I’m certain Welles said something, somewhere, about BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN being a visual influence on his papier-mache and dry-ice Scotland, “a violent charcoal sketch of a great play.” Whale occupies exalted ground, since Welles has comparatively few cinematic antecedents — he borrows liberally from Eisenstein in his first two Shakespeare films, and the smooth matching of his theatrical sensibility with Gregg Toland’s cinematic one obviously helped form him as a filmmaker, but apart from that, Whale is just about the only source you can point to. (He learned basic film grammar from running STAGECOACH, and maybe there’s some stylistic influence — but nothing that couldn’t be explained easier by Toland’s help and Welles’ pre-existing fondness for chiaroscuro.)

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Part two of my theory tomorrow, and starting soon — a major Shadowplay series on CITIZEN KANE. What else is there to say about that film? Maybe nothing, but I will say it with different punctuation.

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Havin’ a Heatwave

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on September 5, 2013 by dcairns

Sitting in the 99 Fahrenheit heat watching a six-year-old girl’s face contort in awe as she watches the trailer for ONE MILLION YEARS BC as my wife reads My Lunches with Orson and eats dried beans and a big golden retriever dismembers a bath towel in his powerful jaws. But when you read this I’ll probably be on an aeroplane en route to New York or London or eventually Edinburgh. More after touchdown.

Rondo Hatton Investigates

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on July 23, 2013 by dcairns

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I was excited to read a description of Rondo Hatton, disfigured horror movie star of the 40s, as a “former reporter.” In fact, he’s usually described as a sports writer (he was a high school football star before the acromegaly kicked in) but the idea of investigative journalism resonated.

I’d like to put Hatton in a crime/espionage drama. Make it the early forties — the unhealthy B-movie star tracks a clue leading him to a gang of fifth columnists — maybe the guys who, according to Orson Welles, shot Carole Lombard out of the skies. This is the trouble with most of my movie ideas — I live in a mental space where a movie about a disfigured B-movie star snapping Nazis’ spines sounds like a Major Motion Picture that could actually happen (maybe with Ron Perlman?). At any rate, while in poor taste, it might partially make up for THE ROCKETEER, in which an actor made-up to look like Rondo played a fifth columnist.

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