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Creator / Orson Welles

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"You know, I always loved Hollywood. It was just never reciprocated."

George Orson Welles (May 6, 1915 October 10, 1985) was a famous American actor, writer, director, producer, artist, young genius, Child Prodigy, Stage Magician, avant-garde innovator in the three media of theatre, radio and cinema, patron saint of Large Hams, and Trope Codifier for Insufferable Genius and Enfant Terrible in popular culture. When film scholars are polled for naming the greatest directors ever, Welles is nearly always in contention for the top position along with Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Jean Renoir, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, and Yasujiro Ozu.

Born to a cultured Kenosha, Wisconsin family, Welles was regarded from his youth as highly intelligent, precocious and charismatic. A boy who never lacked for confidence and charm. After attending the experimental Todd School of Boys, where he was mentored by the headmaster Richard Hill (who became Welles' lifelong friend), he became ambitious and restless. In The '30s, he traveled to Europe to become a painter and ended up working in Dublin's Gate Theatre instead. He returned to the U.S. in the middle of The Great Depression, and soon thereafter cemented himself as a great maverick of the American stage with a series of daring productions, originally funded by the Federal Theatre of the WPA program of the New Deal but eventually produced by his own pioneering Mercury Theatre company, which in addition to working on the stage also worked on the radio and later in his first two films. Even before he made his film debut, Welles made a name for himself in the American performance arts for his ambitious theatre productions, which often featured daring Setting Update (such as Voodoo Macbeth and the anti-fascist Julius Caesar). Alongside of this he worked in radio, including The Mercury Theatre on the Air (with his regular troupe) and the first few seasons of The Shadow. The event that made Welles into a household name across America was his Mercury Theatre radio dramatization of The War of the Worlds on Halloween Eve in 1938, which according to legend was so convincing that some listeners actually believed Martians had landed in New Jersey. (This story, while not entirely untrue, was hardly the "nationwide panic" touted by subsequent media reports. There were, indeed, thousands of phone calls to police and radio stations, and some people even evacuated their homes, but there were no riots.)

All this, before Welles turned 25. At that age, he produced, directed, co-wrote, and starred in his first feature film: Citizen Kane, made for RKO Pictures on a then-unprecedented contract which provided him complete artistic control, a privilege that even established Hollywood professionals never got, let alone an upstart who'd never worked in industry before. While it was Overshadowed by Controversy and commercially unsuccessful on its release, Kane was a groundbreaking film, both technically and narratively inventive. It also confirmed Welles' talent within the industry, with its groundbreaking deep-focus cinematography and other technical feats providing inspiration for numerous filmmakers in the years to follow. The film was admired enough in its time that it received quite a few Academy Award nominations, winning Welles the only competitive Oscar of his career (albeit shared with Herman J. Mankiewicz) for its screenplay. Kane continued to be both admired and debated in the decades after its release, and since the 1960s has been widely recognized as one of the greatest motion pictures if not THE greatest ever made.

Kane cemented Welles' reputation as the Enfant Terrible of Hollywood, and as he put it himself later in his life having started at the top, he would proceed to work his way to the bottom. With his Auteur License contract for Kane no longer in effect, his followup The Magnificent Ambersons suffered actual Executive Meddling. With the exception of 1946's The Stranger, no Welles feature would ever achieve commercial success. These setbacks led Welles to drop out of the mainstream of American cinema entirely by the end of the decade. The one brief exception was 1958's Touch of Evil, which again led to Executive Meddling. He would never quite enjoy the budget and freedom of Kane, and would resort to making movies (very cheaply) in Europe by obtaining funding from multiple sources as well as his own acting fees. This ad-hoc means of production however created numerous rights issues in later decades which played a part in making many of them rare and hard-to-see. It took forty years for the quagmire of The Other Side of the Wind to resolve itself, which is the extreme version of this. Welles also resorted to using his fees as an actor to fund his films. The most famous of these parts and with the exception of his own directorial ventures, the greatest film he appeared in, was his performance as Harry Lime in The Third Man, whose famous speech was improvised by Welles himself.

The majority of Welles' life was spent in an itinerant manner, planning several productions, writing several scripts and doing many projects at once. Much of this was unfinished, most never went past concept, and the films that were made (while critically acclaimed, technically and narratively inventive, and visually gorgeous) were even more obscure than Citizen Kane, whose belated re-evaluation paradoxically lent Welles the taint of being a One-Book Author, and an artist who peaked early. On the other hand, Welles remained a major public figure and global celebrity, in demand for talk shows, commercials, voice-over work, character actor and villain roles. Some of the activities from this time endures in popular culture, most notably a frozen peas commercial. His tagline in commercials for the Paul Masson winery, "We will sell no wine... before its time," became a meme in The '70s. He also became overweight in his later years, leading to many jokes relating to the fact that his final role would be that of a planet. Which is both sad and funny, because his last role really was a planet. He died of a heart attack five days after finishing recording the voice of Unicron for the 1986 Transformers: The Movie. As such, Welles is a popular Historical Domain Character and a favorite for impressionists. Maurice LaMarche is often called to do impressions of him. Has also been played by actors Vincent D'Onofrio in Ed Wood (with the voice dubbed over by LaMarche), Angus MacFadyen in Cradle Will Rock and Christian McKay in the Richard Linklater film Me and Orson Welles. In The Night That Panicked America, a 1970s recreation of the War of the Worlds broadcast, he's played by Paul Shenar, and in Heavenly Creatures, he's played by Canadian actor E. Jean Guérin, who returned to play him again in the satirical murder mystery La vengeance de la femme en noir. In Mank, David Fincher's biopic of Citizen Kane co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz, Welles is played by Tom Burke. In the Urban Myths episode "Orson Welles in Norwich", he was played by Robbie Coltrane.

Welles pioneered the concept of the film-maker as auteur, transforming the idea of American cinema from factory-produced product to personal artistry, and the profession of a film director, inspiring pretty much every post-war film-maker across the world. Despite being quintessentially American (born in Wisconsin and culturally Midwestern), Welles became an international icon, who enjoyed a far better reputation outside his home country. It was only at the end of the 1950s that Kane was "rediscovered" as a masterpiece, and in the 1962 Sight & Sound poll critics voted it the greatest movie ever made for the very first time, a feat it maintained for the next six decades until 2012.note  Today, scholars and cinephiles now recognize that his second career in Europe also includes very strong work. Thanks to later reappraisals, the revival and rediscovery of later films like Touch of Evil and F For Fake, Welles is today seen and celebrated as one of the most daring, artistic and ambitious film-makers to have ever worked in the medium.

On account of Orson Welles' huge itinerant life and career, and the incomplete and inaccessible nature of his later work, a definitive single-volume biography of his whole life is pretty elusive. So far researchers have managed to establish with a good degree of authority Welles' early career in books like Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane by Patrick McGilligan. Robert S. Carringer's books on the production of Citizen Kane and the full publication of the shooting script of The Magnificent Ambersons are key works on his transition from stage to film, and insightful on Welles' production methods. Welles also left behind important oral histories, books of interviews, such as Peter Bogdanovich's This is Orson Welles. 2013 saw the addition of two more books: My Lunches With Orson (by Henry Jaglom, which gives a rare insight into late-period Welles as well as having him far more uncensored, candid, and off-the-cuff than he usually is in other interviews), and Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts by Todd Tarbox (which chronicles the decade-long friendship Welles had with his headmaster and mentor Roger Hill). But much like many of the characters in his movies, there's no last word written on Orson yet.

Movies Directed by Welles:

  • Too Much Johnson (1938) — About 40 minutes of Silent Movie footage, filmed to accompany Welles's Mercury Theatre production of William Gillette's 1894 play of the same name, but was never shown. It was thought to have become a Lost Episode when Welles's personal copy burnt up in a fire in 1970, but a work print turned up in Italy in 2009. Now available on YouTube.
  • Citizen Kane (1941) — His grand debut on film, and despite being a flop, it's the movie that he is best known for, and as he admitted, reluctantly, it's the only film he made that came out as he wanted without artistic and commercial restraints.
  • The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) — The follow-up, with much of Kane's cast returning. One of two features where Welles does not play any role but he does narrate. The film's post-production mess ruined Welles' career in Hollywood for good, losing his artistic independence and financial backing for all his later works. Despite the butchering, it is considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, and an incredible period recreation and literary adaptation.
  • The Stranger (1946) — A Film Noir thriller he made to prove his movies can make money. His only commercial success in the year of release, and the first mainstream film to show the footage of concentration camps.
  • The Lady from Shanghai (1947) - A really, really weird noir thriller with a famous climax in a hall of mirrors. The only film he made with his second (and most famous) wife, Rita Hayworth. Their relationship didn't long survive the production though Hayworth and Welles remained friends, and she called him her favorite of her exes (Welles' response on hearing this: "Poor baby.").
  • Macbeth (1948) — Low-budget adaptation of the Shakespeare play, produced by Republic Features in the post-war era when they commissioned a number of projects by major film-makers by giving them creative control. The entire thing was dubbed over when audiences found the cast's Scottish accents laughable, but the original has also been released. It's the first of Welles' Post-Kane films which came out with his director's cut with the only problems being the low-budget.
  • The Tragedy of Othello (1952) - Adaptation of the Shakespeare play. Welles famously filmed this on-and-off over a few years, taking small roles in other pictures to raise funds for this movie. (One of them was The Third Man.) Won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, sharing it with the now completely-forgotten Two Cents Worth of Hope.
  • Mr. Arkadin (1955) — Originating as a spinoff of a story Welles patterned for the Harry Lime spinoff radio show, Welles made this into a spy thriller that repurposes many motifs form Citizen Kane and The Lady from Shanghai. The nature of the film's production and its spectacular woes after the film's completion makes it far and away the most botched of Welles' films albeit it's still considered visually interesting and stylish, and having the status of a Cult Classic.
  • Touch of Evil (1958) — The last movie he made for Hollywood, and one of the most acclaimed films noir ever made. It was a ground-breaking film in its use of eclair cameras and for its narrative experimentation. Critics consider Hank Quinlan to be Welles' finest performance as an actor, and the film has a stellar supporting cast including Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, and (in an uncredited cameo) Joseph Cotten. The film was recut by the studio against Welles' wishes but a memo that he wrote later led to a widely acclaimed Reconstruction in the '90s.
  • The Trial (1962) — Adaptation of the Franz Kafka book, with Anthony Perkins as Jozef K. It's considered his most visually baroque black-and-white film, and the only adaptation of Kafka's that does justice to its source.
  • Chimes at Midnight (1965) — Combines material from five William Shakespeare plays centering around the boisterous but cowardly knight Falstaff, played by Welles himself. He called it his best movie. Available on The Criterion Collection since 2016.
  • The Immortal Story (1968) — His first film in color and made for TV. It stars Welles and Jeanne Moreau, adapted from a story by Isak Dinesen (Welles' favorite modern writer). Available on The Criterion Collection from 2016.
  • F for Fake (1973) — Arguably Welles' only pure comedy. It is a documentary-essay film about art forgery that was basically improvised into existence. Welles called it his most radical film since Kane anticipating a new kind of film genre that blends non-fiction with fiction. Of note is he actually did end up anticipating a new genre with this movie, just not one that'd be popular among theatrical films: it's arguably the Ur-Example of the YouTuber video essay.
  • Filming Othello (1978) — A documentary about the making of Othello. Available on Disc Two of the Criterion edition of Othello.
  • Don Quixote (1992) — Thought Terry Gilliam was the only filmmaker who struggled to make a film about the Knight Errant of La Mancha? An unfinished film of the Spanish classic, filmed in a piecemeal-like fashion from 1957 to 1972, with Welles working on it until his death. He died before recording the sound, and edited two sequences, and at various times planned different kinds of films to farm out of the footage, such as an essay film with his voice-over, a documentary/mockumentary titled "When Are You Going to Finish Don Quixote?" which made it a meta-commentary on his attempt to film it. A version was released in 1992 edited by Jesus Franco, which garnered mixed reviews, and was disowned by many of Welles' collaborators, with some making plans to put out a more Wellesian version later on. It was his first directorial effort to be released posthumously.
  • The Other Side of the Wind (2018) — A satire about Hollywood and filmmaking starring John Huston as a Hemingway-esque director trying to make a commercial comeback. Shot between 1970 and 1976, it rested on The Shelf of Movie Languishment following Welles' death, and was finally completed in 2018 by Netflix and released on November 2, 2018. It's the second film made by Welles where he doesn't play any role, his first released film as director since 1992, and his second film to be released posthumously.


  • Marching Song (1932) - a play about the revolutionary abolitionist John Brown written by a teenage Welles with some help from his mentor Roger Hill. It was never produced in full, although part of it was staged by Hill's Todd School for Boys in 1950. It was published in book form in 2019 along with essays about Welles' youth and progressive social stances.
  • Macbeth (1936; aka Voodoo Macbeth) - An adaptation of the Shakespeare play with an all-black cast and given a Setting Update to a fictional Caribbean island; produced as part the Federal Theatre Project, designed to give jobs to actors during the Great Depression. Massively successful both critically and financially, it helped place Welles on the map as a dramatic genius. Newsreel footage of the show can be seen here.
  • Horse Eats Hat (1936) - Welles' Federal Theatre Project follow-up to Voodoo Macbeth; an adaptation of the French farce The Italian Straw Hat. It starred Welles' longtime friend and acting partner Joseph Cotten.
  • Doctor Faustus (1937) - Another Federal Theatre Project production, this time an innovative staging of Marlowe's tragedy, done with minimalist scenery and dramatic lighting to distinguish the settings. Welles himself played Faust and Jack Carter (who had played the title role in Voodoo Macbeth) played Mephistopheles, an early example of integrated casting on Broadway.
  • The Cradle Will Rock (1937) - a Federal Works Project staging of the operetta by Marc Blitzstein about a group of small-town steelworkers who fight to unionize in the face of local corruption. Highly controversial for its politics, the play nearly lost its government funding, resulting in at least one performance where when government restrictions meant the actors couldn't take to the stage, they performed in the audience instead. Tim Robbins directed a 1999 semi-fictional film about the 1937 production called Cradle Will Rock starring Angus MacFayden as Welles.
  • Caesar (1938) - a highly-acclaimed adaptation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar given a Setting Update to then-modern fascist Italy, invoking the rule of Mussolini. It was the first show put on by Welles' Production Posse the Mercury Theatre, and was semi-fictionally dramatised in the film Me and Orson Welles, starring Christian MacKay as Welles.
  • Too Much Johnson (1938) - staging of William Gillette's comedy by the Mercury Theatre that was meant to integrate silent movie footage into a stage production. Due to a lack of proper projection equipment at the show's Connecticut venue, the footage couldn't be screened and the resulting stage show was critically panned.
  • Five Kings (1939) - epic-scaled adaptation that integrated parts of Shakespeare's histories, meant to summarize nine plays over two shows. Due to critical indifference, only the first half was ever staged, and it later served as the inspiration for Chimes at Midnight.
  • Native Son (1941) - Widely acclaimed stage adaptation of the novel by Richard Wright from a script written by Wright and Paul Green, with Canada Lee starring in the lead role and Welles directing. This marked the final time Welles and his long time producing partner John Houseman worked together on a project.
  • Around the World (1946) - musical adaptation of the Jules Verne novel Around the World in Eighty Days with music by Cole Porter. Notably, he ran out of money during production and ended up cutting a deal with producer Harry Cohn to finance the show in return for doing a film for him, which eventual became The Lady from Shanghai. While generally well received by audiences, Around The World was too expensive and ungainly to become a major hit and closed after only 70 performances.
  • Moby Dick - Rehearsed (1955) - stage adaptation of the Herman Mellville novel about a group of actors on a production of King Lear who are instructed to start rehearsing Moby-Dick instead, getting deeper and deeper into their characters as the show progresses. This script by Welles is still regularly staged to this day. Patrick McGoohan got one of his first big breaks when he appeared in the original production.


Welles as an actor only:

His career provides examples of:

  • Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: In the "Frozen Peas" outtakes, when it came to recording the phrase 'in July', the director wanted Orson to emphasize the word 'in', which would have sounded ridiculous:
    Orson: There's no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with 'in' and emphasize it. Get me a jury and show me how you can say "in July", and I'll go down on you. That's just idiotic, if you'll forgive my saying so. That's just stupid, "in July"; I'd love to know how you emphasize 'in' in "In July"...Impossible! Meaningless!
    • Later on in the "Frozen Peas" outtakes, when he says "prairie-fed beef", he emphasizes the 'prairie-fed' part and strongly objects to the requests to emphasize 'beef' instead of 'prairie-fed':
    Orson: But you can't emphasize 'beef', that's like his wanting me to emphasize 'in' before 'July'! Come on, fellas, you're losing your heads! I wouldn't direct any living actor like this in Shakespeare, the way you do this! It's impossible!
  • Achievements in Ignorance: The innovative style and special effects achieved in Citizen Kane partly stemmed from Welles' lack of knowledge of Hollywood production standards, which allowed him to Take a Third Option that others had long neglected.
  • Aging Tropes: A common theme in all of Welles' films is the passing of time, and growing old and how people look back on their lives and the time they have left.
    "You ain't got a future, Hank. Your future is all used up!" - Marlene Dietrich, Touch of Evil
    • In 1984, he would record the song "I Know What It Is to be Young (But You Don't Know What it is to be Old)".
  • Auteur License: Among film-makers around the world, Orson Welles is highly regarded for being the first director to be explicitly given this by a major studio. He was given an exclusive two picture contract for a certain period of time(which expired during the middle of the production of The Magnificent Ambersons hence leaving him vulnerable) to produce, write, direct and act on any subject of his choice. This then unheard of initiative, given to an industry outsider, at the age of 25, over experienced professionals created a wave of jealousy and gossip which in a way fed to the backlash against Citizen Kane even in the year of its release. That said Welles had the support of old hands like John Ford, King Vidor and William Wyler.
    • The directors of the New Hollywood generation as well as the French New Wave, recognized Welles as The Pioneer for their kind of films, the goal being that every young director should make a film before they are 25, "just like Orson Welles."
      "All of us will always owe him everything." - Jean-Luc Godard.
  • Backhanded Apology: When he apologized for War of the Worlds, he said he was stunned that people believed it was true. He basically called them stupid. In the actual program, the show is clearly presented as fictional, the level to which he copied the style of the news program was just that convincing.
  • The Bard on Board: Made his name in the 1930s with memorable stage adaptations of Julius Caesar and Macbeth. After going into Hollywood he made similarly well-regarded films of Othello and Macbeth as well as Chimes at Midnight, a reworking of the Henry IV plays or specifically a Deconstruction of the same, foregrounding Falstaff as the major character rather than Prince Hal.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: As detailed in F for Fake, Welles's first professional acting job was when he was touring Europe at age 16 and ran out of money in Dublin. He then entered the famous Gate Theatre and demanded a part, claiming to be a famous American Broadway star. He got one. However, Michael MacLiammoir, one of the managers of the theater noted in his autobiography that the Gate Theatre knew he was lying but was so impressed with his spirit that they took him on anyway.
  • Berserk Button: He wouldn't stand for Ted Turner's attempt to ruin his film noir masterpiece Citizen Kane with Turnerization: "Keep Ted Turner and his goddamned Crayolas away from my movie."
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: The Battle of Shrewsbury in Chimes At Midnight is considered by the people who have seen it, to be one of the greatest and most original of its kind. Shot on a low budget, it uses a cinema-verite approach rather than the epic long shots of the Epic Movie to show how in-your-face and gritty medieval battle was. This sequence inspired Kenneth Branagh's Henry V and Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan.
  • Big Eater: Legendarily so. His average dinner consisted of two steaks cooked rare and a pint of scotch, and at one time he ate 18 hot dogs in one sitting at a Los Angeles hot dog stand. This undoubtedly led to his later obesity and was a common source of jokes at his expense, including from himself:
    "My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people."
  • Chiaroscuro: His films are famous for featuring this, and also different gradations, moving from subtle (The Magnificent Ambersons) to expressionistic (Touch of Evil) to the almost hallucinogenic visuals of The Trial.
  • The Big Guy: He stood about 6'4 (192 cm) and was heavyset for much of his life.
  • Cigar Chomper: He became associated with this trope in his later years.
  • Clock Tower: The Stranger.
  • Crying Wolf: A few years after The War of the Worlds (1938) broadcast, Welles was hosting a patriotic radio concert featuring poetry and music that was then interrupted with news that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Nobody listening believed it until too late.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: Welles predicted this would happen to him. Noting that people will love him after his death while in his life he had to constantly hustle and scheme to get movies made. Some also note about Welles that on account of the number of films he left incomplete or had shelved because of rights issues, he's one of the few film-directors who releases new works after his death, with some citing the Reconstruction of Touch of Evil and the upcoming The Other Side of the Wind as examples.
  • Deadpan Snarker: A master of this onscreen and in real life. You've heard of the expression 'humor so dry it might as well be a desert'? This guy would be the Sahara.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Orson Welles preferred black and white to color. And with the exception of two films (F For Fake and The Immortal Story) all his films are in that form, while The Other Side of the Wind is mainly in color but also switches to black-and-white at various moments. He said that black-and-white made audiences put more focus on the actor's performance, especially the actor's eyes.
  • Despair Event Horizon: In one of his last interviews — done for the retrospective BBC documentary, "The Orson Welles Story", Welles had a bleak assessment of his career:
    "I have wasted the greater part of my life looking for money and trying to get along, trying to make my work from this terribly expensive paint-box, which is a movie. And I've spent too much energy on things that have nothing to do with making a movie. It's about two percent movie-making and ninety-eight percent hustling. It's no way to spend a life."
  • Downer Ending: Welles' refusal to pay even token fealty to The Hays Code and its insistence on happy endings was a problem on The Magnificent Ambersons. His films are generally pessimistic and dark, but done with such style that they are entertaining nevertheless. The only truly happy movie of his, is F for Fake (which ironically was made after the Code had been abandoned for the MPAA ratings system).
    "If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story."
  • End of an Age: A frequent theme in his films. Welles stated that the idea of a "Golden Age" was one of the great triumphs of human civilization and believed that the past was the one treasure everyone shared.
    Orson Welles: Even if the good old days never existed, the fact that we can concieve of such a world is, in fact, an affirmation of the human spirit. That the imagination of man is capable of creating the myth of a more open, more generous time is not a sign of our folly.
    • Specifically, The Magnificent Ambersons which was essentially the landscape of Welles' midwestern childhood, encroached on by the coming of the 20th Century. The sense of loss of the good old days was a bitter theme at the coming of World War II, where other films like Meet Me In St. Louis celebrated the past with Nostalgia Filter. This was one reason why the film fell to Executive Meddling.
    • Likewise, Chimes At Midnight, identified Falstaff as The Remnant of what Welles called "Merrie England", an age of freedom and zest typified by The Middle Ages which ends in the film, when Mistress Quickly notes that Falstaff lies in "Arthur's bosom."
    • This also led to his fascination and identification with Don Quixote which deals with the same theme.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: A theme that Welles returned to in his films is friendship that after a time leads to inevitable betrayal. Charles Kane and Leland, Othello and Iago, Hank Quinlan and Menzies, and Prince Hal and Falstaff. On account of pure coincidence, this theme is also present in The Third Man, with the same two actors from Kane, playing more or less the same relationship.
    • On a more literal note, Welles' theatre production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar featured him as Brutus.
  • The Film of the Book: The Magnificent Ambersons, The Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil, The Trial and of course his Shakespeare films. The only Welles films based on entirely original screenplays are Citizen Kane and the upcoming The Other Side of the Wind, while Mr. Arkadin was based on his story idea inspired by the character Harry Lime and the spinoff radio he worked on.
  • Film Noir: The Stranger, The Lady from Shanghai, and Touch of Evil. Although not a film noir, Citizen Kane greatly inspired the photography standards of what became film noir, being endlessly studied and imitated by DPs and film directors even in the 40s.
    • Although not a straight-up noir, his adaptation of The Trial still makes use of much of the mainstays of the genre, especially in terms of visuals and character archetypes.
    • Touch of Evil is regarded as the end of the Classic Film Noir period, since its visual style, and genre busting story completely broke away with so many genre and censorship limitations that the category was no longer necessary.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: Welles despite his numerous issues with producers altering his films during post-production wasn't shy about himself making cuts and changes after releases, and trying to do so:
    • In the case of his version of MacBeth and The Trial, he had removed scenes from initial releases and later ones. The former he did at the behest of the studio, which later reprints have brought back. In the case of The Trial, he removed two scenes that European DVD labels retain as deleted scenes.
    • Touch of Evil was cut against his wishes, driving Welles to write a memo. He argued that there should be a new version combining the preview and the theatrical version, that the two subplots of Vargas and his wife should be intercut rather than bunched separately, and he wanted the credits imposed on his opening shot removed and moved to the end, including removing Henry Mancini's title music. He also argued for inserts of Joseph Calleia's character to be placed in key scenes so as to show his internal dilemma. In the '90s, the memo led to the Reconstruction version that followed on Welles' notes, creating in effect a third version of the film.
    • In the '60s and '70s, Welles tried to propose to a number of parties, a plan to reshoot all the missing scenes from The Magnificent Ambersons with the surviving cast and crew. Welles believed he would be able to match the new footage seamlessly to the surviving one, but he didn't find any backers at that time and subsequently gave up to focus on his newer projects.
  • Gender-Blender Name: He named his daughter Christopher.
  • Genre-Busting: Orson Welles never did a straight genre piece (except The Stranger), taking any genre from the inside out and sometimes creating new genres.
  • Grammar Correction Gag: While providing narration for Findus Frozen Peas, during the outtakes, Orson quibbles with the audio engineer about the phrase 'in July'; the director wants Orson to start the phrase by stressing the preposition 'in', which Orson finds absurd:
    There's no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with 'in' and emphasize it. Get me a jury and show me how you can say "in July", and I'll go down on you. That's just idiotic, if you'll forgive me my saying so. That's just stupid, "in July"; I'd love to know how you emphasize 'in' in "In July"...impossible! Meaningless!
    • Later, the director objects to Orson pronouncing the phrase as "prairie-fed beef", and asks Orson to re-pronounce the phrase as prairie-fed beef, with emphasis on the word 'beef':
    But you can't emphasize "beef", that's like his wanting me to emphasize 'in' before 'July'! Come on, fellas, you're losing your heads! I wouldn't direct any living actor like this in Shakespeare, the way you do this! It's impossible!
  • Grammar Nazi: His mounting rage when a commercial director kept trying to make him read some awful, awful copy has achieved immortality as an Internet audio file.
  • Hall of Mirrors: The memorable climax to The Lady from Shanghai.
  • Hilariously Drunken Outtakes: "AAAHH..!... the... Ff-f-rencchampagne..."
  • Hitler Cam: Used this constantly to quickly show corrupt men in positions of power.
  • I Love Lucy: Welles guest starred on an episode helpfully titled "Lucy Meets Orson Welles", which among other things referenced his love of magic and his infamous The War of the Worlds (1938) radio broadcast. Welles was also contracted to a Desilu pilot which ended in creative differences between himself and Desi Arnaz.
    • In addition to this, Welles planned to launch his own TV show for which he directed a pilot, The Fountain of Youth which was produced by Desilu but it didn't catch on. The pilot is considered a cult title by aficionados for its formal inventiveness.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: Teamed up (as himself!) with Superman in Superman #62 (1950). Also appeared as his famous characters, Charles Foster Kane and Harry Lime in Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In the The Spirit story "UFO", first published September 28, 1947, he appears as Awsome Bells, who's approached by a real Martian asking his help with an upcoming invasion. Bells at first thinks it's just another actor-producer trying to get publicity, then when he's convinced it's true everyone thinks this of him, of course.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: In his "Frozen Peas" outtakes, he constantly chides the director and editor for giving him poor instructions on how they want the script read before finally exclaiming the money isn't worth the effort of trying to make it work. While one may scratch their head as to why he's taking such an obvious easy paycheck so seriously, it can't be denied that all of his criticisms are valid, and if you're going to go to the effort of hiring someone of his caliber to narrate a commercial you should at least give a damn about coherency.
  • Large Ham: more in his later years as a character actor. Welles in his interviews with Peter Bogdanovich admitted that he took roles that were lesser than his abilities to fund his directorial efforts, he preferred that over directing commercial assignments like The Stranger which he felt was more trouble, for him, than it was worth.
  • Man of a Thousand Voices: Despite having a gifted, recognizable voice, Welles was an incredible mimic and impersonator. On some of his European films, when dubbing was expensive or sound was unavailable, Welles would dub his co-stars himself. Anthony Perkins on seeing The Trial couldn't tell the difference between the dialogue he recorded and the parts which Welles dubbed in.
  • The Mentor: As a young man, Welles' school principal Richard Hill encouraged his young prodigy who even then showed uncanny talent in his stage productions of Shakespeare at 15!
    • Gregg Toland, the cinematographer for Citizen Kane served as this for Welles. He had seen Welles' theater work and volunteered to work on Kane because he was himself an innovative artist and felt that Welles would try out new ideas that he long wanted to do. On the set, when the crew tried to explain to Welles that he was breaking normal protocol. Toland told them to back down because he felt that on his first film, it was more important that Welles preserve his instincts, leaving a professional like him to watch his back. For this Welles gave Toland a shared credit on the screen, something that was rare at the time.
    • Welles always regretted Toland's absence on The Magnificent Ambersons, the DP Stanley Cortez (who did shoot The Night of the Hunter, and Shock Corridor later) was also talented but far slower and the lack of rapport between him and Welles delayed the production, a factor that led to the famous crisis of its post-production.
    • Welles himself served as The Mentor for Robert Wise (who started as editor on his first two films, and would go on to have a long Hollywood career as director), Cy Endfield, and in his later years to the likes of Henry Jaglom and Peter Bogdanovich.
  • Middle Name Basis: His first name is "George". According to him, even he didn't know this until he was in elementary school.
  • Mockumentary: The Trope Maker, with his famous radio dramatization The War of the Worlds (1938).
    • His F For Fake is a documentary with fictional elements and conceits which specifically deconstructs the claim and pretence of objectivity that the documentary form inherently grants its premise, insisting that anything edited, shot and scored to music has a subjective perspective. This aspect is present in the newsreel opening of Citizen Kane where RKO's own newsreel department helped in making the convincing, fake cheery ebullience of old-time newsreels.
  • Narrator: Welles in The Magnificent Ambersons and F for Fake. Also applies to many of the jobs he did for money, especially in the last 15 years of his life after he couldn't get any more directing work.
  • One-Hit Wonder: In 1984, he released "I Know What it is to be Young (But You Don't Know What it is to be Old)" with spoken lyrics, accompanied by the Nick Perito Orchestra and the Ray Charles Singers.
  • The Oner: Two in Citizen Kane—the long shot into Susan's nightclub and the tracking shot up the ladder as Susan is singing—a four minute take in The Stranger that starts on a dirt road and follows Kindler and Meineke into the woods, and most famously the opening shot of Touch of Evil, a three minute, thirty second continuous take.
    • The Magnificent Ambersons has a famous ballroom sequence that remains incredibly breathtaking, for the variety of actors moving in the frame, the multiple layers in which the action takes place and the use of the sets and space for emotional effect, all in one long continuous take, a display of impeccable craftsmanship and meticulous planning and creative vision.
    • Macbeth likewise had the record for the longest take possible for a 35mm film magazine(which can go up to 10 minutes before needing to be changed) which contains an entire act of the play, the murder of Duncan, complete with dialogue and scenery, unaltered from the play, and the action takes place over multiple layers in the same frame with perfect synchonicity between the actors.
    • While the opening of 'Touch of Evil is famous, the scene Welles prized in the film as one of his best, is a long take where Quinlan in the course of a single take misdirects Charlton Heston's Vargas and plants evidence right under his very nose. Remarkable for the blocking (the movement of actors and positions) and the amount of action conveyed in a single take. Also the first scene shot for the film.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: With Marlene Dietrich, with whom he often performed his magic show (and later cast in Touch of Evil).
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: For people who never saw his movies he is forever associated with Citizen Kane and being an obese cigar smoking bearded man who spoke in a powerful voice and did wine commercials, as well as the guy who fooled New Jersey into believing that an alien invasion was imminent. For those who are only aware of popculture from 1979 through 2012, he'll be best remembered from The Transformers: The Movie as the voice of Unicron, a planet-sized transformer who threatened to eat the galaxy. And that's not a bad thing, as far as those youngsters are likely concerned, now they've reached adulthood. He was a pivotal part of many people's childhoods, who have likely shown the film to succeeding generations, meaning that he'll be part of many childhoods to come, even if they never learn about Citizen Kane later in life. Not the worst legacy, when all is said and done. Orson loved a good story, and while Transformers is hardly the emotional epic that Kane was, it still tells a good story for kids to enjoy, and he got to be part of it. He would more than likely have approved at how he's come to be remembered by both children and those who are still kids at heart.
  • Posthumous Collaboration: Welles performed magic on stage with David Copperfield over a decade after his death. see for yourself
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Interesting aversion; his production of Macbeth, set in a Haitian court invoking Voodoo and with an all-black cast, put him on the map as a theatrical prodigy. Welles was a progressive for his time however, and made the production with the intention of giving employment to talented African-American artists. Writer James Baldwin wrote in his memoirs that the production had a big impact on him.
    • Welles also provoked controversy when he discussed on radio the case of Isaac Woodard, an African American war veteran who was beaten a few hours after being discharged from service. Welles' stance led to his effigies being burnt in the South and years later he cited this experience for his anti-Racist Touch of Evil where he played the racist police officer Hank Quinlan who hated Mexicans.
  • Promoted Fanboy: In his later years, he developed a great fondness for the works of Jim Henson, calling Sesame Street "the best thing that ever happened to television." For this reason, his appearance in The Muppet Movie, though brief, was by all accounts a wonderful experience for him. According to the film's director, he knew the names of every single one of the Muppets and even noticed when one of them had the color of his hat changed for the film.
  • Re-Cut: He's a bit of a poster-boy for "director whose films are taken away from him". This is an exaggeration because most of Welles' films came out as he intended (Citizen Kane, Macbeth, Othello, Chimes at Midnight, The Trial, The Immortal Story, F For Fake), in his "director's cut" (which actually makes him exceptional to a period where no director was allowed in the editing room). The Stranger and The Lady from Shanghai are genre films made for studio and which he is satisfied with despite the fact that both productions barred him from the editing room. The only examples of second version made after the original are two films, and neither of them are really "director's cut" since Welles never made his own version:
    • There are at least five cuts of Mr. Arkadin floating around out there, three of which are included in the Criterion DVD release, and one of the cuts is a version made for the Criterion edition by taking bits from multiple versions into a "Comprehensive Edition". The Corinth Edition is considered the most Wellesian of the bunch.
    • Touch of Evil was taken from his hands and edited with reshoots not directed by Welles inserted into it. There was a preview version with more Welles footage that was unearthed in The Seventies. Welles wrote a memo after seeing both these cuts and proposed a way to salvage his film by mixing stuff and re-ordering scenes. This memo became the Reconstruction of Touch of Evil released in the '90s.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Welles ran a middle-ground. On the one hand he was sentimental about the past, admired the concept of the golden age and the idea of a dream-like past, but on the other hand he refused to write off progress altogether, and generally presented a Gray-and-Grey Morality version of the conflict.
  • Teen Genius / Child Prodigy: Welles is the definitive example of this in film history. He made Citizen Kane at the age of 25, and spent years before that changing the landscape of American theatre and radio with his innovative productions and was a workaholic of epic proportions. The failure of Kane at the box-office and the disappointment of The Magnificent Ambersons post-release halted this flow. In F For Fake he lamented:
    "I guess you could say that I started at the top and worked my way to the bottom."
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Welles admitted that he loved highbrow culture and lowbrow culture but hated middlebrow culture.
  • Take That!: In 1970, Orson Welles released "The Begatting of the President", a spoken record satire of Cecil B. DeMille's Biblical epics, aimed at Lyndon Johnson's presidency, The Vietnam War, and Richard Nixon's subsequent election to the presidency.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The Stranger, in which actor/director Welles plays a Nazi war criminal hiding out in America under a fake identity. Although unlike most portrayals, this one pays considerable attention to the atrocities committed by the Nazis, notably being the first fictional feature film to show newsreel footage of the liberation of the concentration camps.
  • Tragedy: All his films are essentially this. His protagonists are either Tragic Hero, Tragic Villain, haunted by a Dark and Troubled Past, or burdened by a Tragic Dream.
  • Typecasting: Somehow at some point, if there was an Epic Movie about The Napoleonic Wars, someone or something dictated that Welles had to be cast in it. It happened with Napoléon (1955), Austerlitz (1960) and Waterloo (1970).
  • Unreliable Narrator:
    • Welles was notorious for making up tall tales about his own life and background. Even the book This Is Orson Welles, a compilation of interviews between him and Peter Bogdanovich, had interludes and exchanges that were inserted by Welles for dramatic effect.
    • Welles plays with this trope in his film F for Fake.
  • Video Credits: Citizen Kane and The Magnficent Ambersons.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • This trope could be used to describe the majority of Welles' post-Citizen Kane career. By the time of his death, as detailed in the documentary One-Man Band, he had left behind literally dozens of fragmented and incomplete projects, including several nearly finished full-length films (the most notable being The Other Side of the Wind), and TV pilots. Many of these were independent projects, self-financed and paid for through Welles taking acting jobs and commercial contracts.
    • According to James Earl Jones, Welles was George Lucas' first choice for the voice of Darth Vader, but Lucas decided that Welles' voice was too well known.

"We know a remote farm in Lincolnshire where Mrs. Buckley lives. Every July, peas grow there..."
"Don't you think you really want to say "July" over the snow? Isn't that the fun of it?"


Video Example(s):


Harry in the Limelight

Holly Martins confronts a shadowy figure watching him. It turns out to be Harry Lime, who was long thought dead at this point in the film. Before Holly can get to him though, he teleports away.

How well does it match the trope?

4.75 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheReveal

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