Archive for Orson Welles

Strangeways

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2016 by dcairns

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Finally reading The Smiler with the Knife, written by Nicholas Blake (who was really the poet Cecil Day-Lewis, father of Daniel) in 1939, immediately optioned by RKO and briefly developed by Orson Welles as his Hollywood debut, after THE HEART OF DARKNESS fell through and before CITIZEN KANE came through. It’s an item in Welles bios that always intrigued me.

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Years ago I read Blake’s The Beast Must Die, which has no relation to the Amicus werewolf whodunnit (spoiler: the werewolf dunnit), but which was decently filmed by Chabrol as QUE LA BETE MEURE in 1969, and as LA BESTIA DEBE MORIR in 1952 by my man Roman Vinoly Barreto. The best bit of the book is a lengthy confession written by a man plotting the murder of the motorist who drunkenly killed his child. Then Blake’s posh private eye, Nigel Strangeways comes along and solves it, and the story devolves into a conventional country house kind of thriller, sitting uncomfortably with the raw emotion of the killer POV sequence. Chabrol certainly noticed that, and excised Strangeways from his movie altogether. I haven’t been able to see the Barreto, but he may have done the same, or maybe he just changed the names. Has Nigel Strangeways ever made it to the screen?

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Poor Nigel is largely absent from The Smiler with the Knife too, with his wife Georgia, intrepid explorer, taking centre stage, going underground to unmask a fascist plot to take over Britain — the aristocratic leader of the secret society falls in love with her and she has to betray and outwit him. Events rapidly overtook the novel with the outbreak of war, but Welles planned to relocate the story to America, with the villain a Howard Hughes type. Ironic, since Hughes would end up owning RKO.

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Welles also included, according to Joseph McBride’s Whatever Happened to Orson Welles?, a Hearst-like newspaper baron called W.N. Howells — now, presumably Welles had in mind for himself the big bad guy role, whose character has quite a bit in common with his eventual role in THE STRANGER (secret fascist hiding in plain view, in love with a woman who does not share his sinister sympathies), but “W.N. Howells” sounds so much like a misheard “Orson Welles” that it’s hard to believe he wasn’t already sizing up the part for himself.

Blake/Day-Lewis makes his main villain a romantic millionaire figure, toying humorously with the affections of countless women but falling dangerously in love with Georgia. He also ends up blinded in a fire she starts, anticipating Welles role as Rochester in JANE AYRE EYRE. His styling as an “attractive brute” type may have been a stretch for Orson, but no doubt appealed, and one aspect of his description, his “oddly lumbering, bear-like gait,” fits Welles, no twinkletoes, to a tee.

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Nobody seems to have produced a really detailed synopsis of Welles’ adaptation, and it’s not published or available to read online, but I recall (correctly, I hope) that Welles wanted Lucille Ball for the lead. This would have changed Georgia’s character considerably, and a good thing too — Blake/Day-Lewis has to work hard to even begin to make plausible her role as an undercover agent when she’s well-known as the daughter-in-law of a Scotland Yard commissioner whose job is to expose the conspirators. I imagine Welles making her much more of a regular working girl, perhaps anticipating her role in the delightful 1947 thriller LURED (Douglas Sirk), in which she plays a taxi dancer going undercover to snare a serial killer.

The latter part of the book is a very Hitchcockian chase thriller, in the 39 STEPS mode. Welles had some kind of inherent antipathy to Hitchcock, co-existing with an attraction to often similar material (but what attracted him about it was obviously quite different). It would have been fascinating to see what he’d make of this.

Oh well, we’ll just have to make do with CITIZEN KANE.

A softly falling silent shroud of snow

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , on October 31, 2015 by dcairns

This is really wonderful. I didn’t know the classic story it’s based on, by Conrad Aiken, but it’s beautiful and very very strange. This semi-professional filming (the IMDb doesn’t know of its existence) manages a kind of expressive naivety in its effects which works well. The same filmmaker, Gene Kearney, later filmed the story again for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, with Orson Welles as narrator. I must see that, though I sort of doubt it will be as good in colour, with an NBC TV look to it. The narrator on this version does great. But I must admit I’m psyched to hear Welles do it. Where did I put my set of Night Gallery season 2?

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Found it! Wonderful to hear Welles at work on this text, and the episode justifies the whole existence of Night Gallery (which, let’s face it, was frequently crummy) — it’s the kind of material one simply can’t imagine seeing on television. Having said that, feeding it through the NBC de-flavouring machine does result in a loss of visual atmosphere. In the b&w version you COULD close your eyes and still enjoy it, but you really WANT to watch.

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I’m reminded of the fact that the great Wendy Toye remade her own masterpiece, THE STRANGER LEFT NO CARD, as an episode of Tales of the Unexpected. I’m very curious to see it, but despite a TOTU box set and constant TV replaying, that one never seems to turn up…

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Note: the ending of Youtube’s SSSS seems abrupt, and comes before the last couple of lines of the short story. Truncation was suspected — but Night Gallery trims the show at exactly the same line, so I guess that’s Keirney’s decision, and all that can be missing is some kind of end title.

The Cold

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on September 15, 2015 by dcairns

This is a treat — a riveting short film, produced by the BBC, made available on YouTube by its director, David Cobham.

A fairly straight filming of a Jack London short story, by a filmmaker with considerable experience of nature filming. Narrated by Orson Welles — and it’s one of Welles’ great performances. His flair for the dramatic is in perfect synch with the material. Just by sounding a bit concerned, Welles stokes the flames of suspense. Understatement may not be something you associate with old Orson, but he’s a master of it. It’s just that his understatement is naturally a bit bigger than most.

Enjoy!

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