My last post was about those high-priests of lowbrow comedy, The Three Stooges. This post turns to “the ultimate auteur,” Orson Welles, who would have turned 100 years old today, if he had lived to be….100.
Lowbrow or highbrow, ridiculous or sublime — where appreciation of talent is concerned, call me strictly unbiased….not unlike Rick (Humphrey Bogart) telling Captain Renault (Claude Rains) on a slightly different subject, “When it comes to women, you’re a true democrat.”
Artistically, Orson Welles was the ultimate wunderkind of his day, writing, acting, directing and producing innovative work in three fields while still in his early to mid twenties, including: in theater, CAESAR (1937) on Broadway; in radio, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1938), one of the most famous broadcasts in history; in film, CITIZEN KANE (1941), widely regarded as one of the all-time greatest films.
Like many creative geniuses (and who is to say he wasn’t one), Welles often ran afoul of “the powers that be.” It’s the eternal story of artistic vision vs commercial interests and creative control vs studio mindset; it is the fortunate artist indeed who wins those battles. Thus, Welles directed only 13 full-length films in his career, most of which were heavily edited after being taken out of his hands. In 2002, 17 years after his death, he was voted the greatest film director of all time by directors and critics in two British Film Institute polls.
Despite the acclaim attending CITIZEN KANE, a film I like even more (and among my all-time favorites) is one in which he co-starred, but did not direct: THE THIRD MAN (1949). To quote from the back cover of Charles Dravin’s 1999/2000 book IN SEARCH OF THE THIRD MAN:
Half a century after its opening, The Third Man remains an unquestioned masterpiece of film artistry and, for many, the greatest British movie ever made. Whether it is Harry Lime’s [Orson Welles] magical first appearance or [his] celebrated cuckoo clock speech or the climactic chase through the sewers beneath Vienna or the haunting theme music of Anton Karas, the film contains some of the most memorable moments in screen history.
I highly recommend both the film and the book, which tells the engrossing (if you’re a classic movie buff) story behind the story of the making of the film.
I close with The Third Man Theme: