Orson Welles | Subjects | Structure and Story Telling | Visual Style | Welles' Career | Welles and Culture

Films: The Voodoo Macbeth | Too Much Johnson | Citizen Kane | The Magnificent Ambersons | Journey Into Fear | It's All True | The Stranger | The Lady From Shanghai | King Lear | Mr. Arkadin | Around the World with Orson Welles | The Fountain of Youth | The Immortal Story | Vienna | F for Fake | F for Fake Trailer | Filming The Trial

Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors) | Mathematics and Visual Style | Color in the Arts

Orson Welles

Commentary on Orson Welles:

Orson Welles: Subjects

Society and life: Gender and relationships: Artistic creation, often reflexive looks at: Nature: Mythology, often about animals: Religion: Imagery: Fire: Transportation:

Orson Welles: Structure and Story Telling

Genres: Structure:

Orson Welles: Visual Style

Style, rhythm and movement: Architecture: Architecture and Geometry: Composition and Geometry: Abstraction and Abstract Filmmaking: Mirrors and Multiple Images: Camera movement: Color: Costumes and Color: Costumes:

Periods of Orson Welles' Career

Orson Welles' career breaks into two main phases. During 1934 - 1947, Welles was a big star in radio, a major medium at that time in the United States. This made Welles one of America's best known performers. Welles used his radio earnings to support his critically praised work in the New York theater. He also leveraged his radio stardom to launch a career in motion pictures. This opportunity to work in the movies was fairly common for radio stars of the day, although Welles' achievements in film went further than any other radio personality. Welles directed 7 films from 1940-1947, all financed by Hollywood studios. Welles is astonishingly prolific in these years, in radio, theater and film.

All of this changes abruptly mid-1947. Welles leaves America for Europe, and his career will never be the same again. Welles mainly stops working in radio drama, which is a dying medium from this point on, one that soon ceases to exist in the United States. He does far less theater work, as well. In 1949, after a number of commercial European film projects fall through, Welles starts filming his self-financed production of Othello. From this point forward, much of Welles' creative work will be self-financed, based on his income as a movie actor.

There will be exceptions to this, especially during a period of temporary commercial success in 1954-1957, when Welles will film:

Aside from this interlude, Welles will have no real basis of public or commercial support for most of his non-acting work from 1947 on. He will be viewed as a has-been by most of the world - or maybe as a never-was. While French film critics will view Orson Welles as a giant of the film medium, American reviewers will largely slam his work.

Welles and Culture

Orson Welles spent a considerable part of his stage, radio and film careers, dramatizing major works of world literature. Despite this, he garnered little support after 1945 from guardians or promoters of culture or cultural education.

Welles released three Shakespeare films, that were largely dismissed in their eras. Their reception contrasts with Laurence Olivier's Hamlet, which won Oscars, and which was treated as a major cultural event.

Similarly, Welles' adaptation of Isak Dinesen, The Immortal Story, hardly made a critical ripple. But a later film version of Dinesen, Out of Africa, was showered with Oscars and acclaim.

Welles received and receives almost no recognition from professors who teach literature, or the humanities. While Welles was the major American interpreter of Shakespeare of his era, his adaptations of Shakespeare and other literary authors are treated by non-film professors of the humanities as not being of the slightest interest or value. One can compare the all out efforts made by the academy to promote Existentialism, Deconstructionism and Lacan, to the complete indifference shown to Welles.

The Voodoo Macbeth

The Voodoo Macbeth (1936) is a stage play directed by Orson Welles, a famous, much acclaimed version of Macbeth with an all-black cast. The play's finale was filmed as part of the WPA documentary We Work Again (1937). It is unclear if Welles had anything to do with directing the film version. But it does preserve an excerpt from Welles' stage production. It is the first of Welles' great Shakespeare productions to survive.

Even at this early date, the set shows favorite Orson Welles motifs:

The people assemble at the finale: an early example of this key Welles subject.

The finale is quite cut from Shakespeare's text. But it includes Macbeth's remarks about the Sun. This is an early example of the Sun imagery that runs through Welles.

Macduff carries a trumpet: one of the black musicians in Welles.

Macduff's costume is full of parallel lines. These include nested triangles along the front of his tunic.

Too Much Johnson

Too Much Johnson (1938) is a silent film comedy Orson Welles created to accompany a stage play. It is available free on-line here.


Too Much Johnson seems directly linked as a historical film about earlier America to Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons.

The suffragettes and the crowd cheering them, are an early example in Welles of people assembling for political purposes.

The suffragettes are very Gibson Girl-ish. They are consistent with Welles' portraits of a vanished era in WASP upper middle class life. But they don't look anything like the real-life suffragettes in this landmark newsreel, part of the TREASURES DVD series.

This is an early film with that favorite Welles setting Latin America.

Welles Subjects

Welles loves scenes of staircases, landings and balconies. The many New York city shots of fire escapes and roofs are spectacular examples. The ship and its various decks, with a ladder connecting them, are also instances. The dockside scenes anticipate Mr. Arkadin.

A sign near the water says "Private" and "Keep Out". It anticipates the "No Trespassing" sign that opens and closes Citizen Kane.

The roof chimneys emitting smoke (during the chase in New York) anticipate the finale of Citizen Kane.

The palms will return at Xanadu in the newsreel in Citizen Kane. Palms run through Welles films.

The bed shakes with wild lovemaking. It links beds with sex. This gives new meaning to shots of disassembled beds in other Welles films: the finale with Kane's possessions in Citizen Kane, the opening at Tamiroff's in Mr. Arkadin. Such shots suggest a tragic end to sexuality.

We see that favorite Welles subject, the Sun, during some spectacular shots at sea.


Welles liked carriages, drawn by horses. A woman and a trunk ride in an open carriage, at the dock. It especially resembles the one in The Immortal Story.

This is contrasted with an early motorcar, which also arrives at the docks. Early automobiles are a major subject in The Magnificent Ambersons. Here in Too Much Johnson, horse-drawn carriages and early autos appear in the same shot. It is like a pendant to The Magnificent Ambersons, a visual embodiment of the Ambersons theme of autos vs horse-drawn vehicles.

The hero is also in a horse-drawn food wagon, during the earlier encounter at the warehouse district.

The Maze

The hero and villain chase each other through the stacked boxes and baskets in the warehouse district. The stacks form a maze.

The shots anticipate the Mirror Maze at the finale of The Lady From Shanghai. This also has characters pursuing each other through the maze.

Eventually the stacks are overturned, and the maze is disintegrated, in some visually spectacular shots. This anticipates the way the mirrors are shattered at the end of The Lady From Shanghai.

I predict that this scene will become almost as well known as the finale of The Lady From Shanghai.

The Ladder

The ladder carried by the hero anticipates the long objects carried by men in other Welles, such as the logs for the raft in It's All True.

Both the ladder the hero carries, and the horse the hero rides, are phallic symbols. Such symbols are perhaps appropriate for comedy.

The hero whirls the ladder around while on the roof, in some spectacular shots. This is an example of the rotary motion in Welles films.

How did Joseph Cotten keep his balance during these tricky scenes? He must have the poise and balance of a cat.

Repeated Rhythms

Welles films are full of scenes in which a repeated action forms a rhythmic pulse. Such scenes play a major role in Too Much Johnson:

Composition: Fanning vertical lines

A shot showing palm trees, is one of Welles' compositions involving vertical lines jutting at angles.

Another shot shows boxes pilled high on a dock. The stacks too form vertical lines, although not quite at jutting angles to each other.

Composition: Signs

The suffragettes carry signs, and wear banners. This is an early example of Welles' approach of creating compositions out of signs, posters or banners.

There are also big signs on some of the New York City warehouses in the chase scenes.

Signs are also prominent on the dock.

Composition: Architecture

The windows under the roof gables are arched. Welles likes arched doorways. While these are windows, not doors, characters do move through them, like doorways, onto the roof.

The peaked roofs Welles like are common in the New York chase scenes.

Costumes and Geometry

The thimble-shaped helmets worn by the Keystone Kop-style police, will get echoed in shape by the hats worn by the Brazilian fishermen in It's All True, and by the tall first derby tried on in opening of The Magnificent Ambersons. This shape is unusual and distinctive. It seems nearly unique to Orson Welles; I haven't noticed it much in other filmmakers.

The hero in the Cuba finale is an early Welles man in a white suit.

William Gillette

The original play Too Much Johnson (1894) was written by William Gillette, adapted from a French farce.

I've seen and disliked two films made from Gillette's most famous play Sherlock Holmes (1899). These are the silent film Sherlock Holmes (Albert Parker, 1922) with John Barrymore, and a "filmed stage play" version Sherlock Holmes (Peter H. Hunt, 1981) with Frank Langella. While the original Holmes stories by Doyle seem fresh and terrific today, Gillette's's play seems like a creaking relic of the Victorian era.

Citizen Kane

Artistic Creation

Citizen Kane is filled with backstage looks at the creation of several types of artworks or communication systems: We also get looks at some finished projects in the arts and communication. We don't see these being created. So they are simpler, more straightforward in their presentation. But they otherwise seem like addendums to the above list: The newsreel is like a miniature version of Citizen Kane as a whole. Both are film biographies of Kane. The scenes of the newsmen discussing the making of the newsreel, likely paralleled the creation of Citizen Kane itself.

Some artworks, such as Citizen Kane, include material that discusses the creation of art works. Literary theorist Alastair Fowler talks about post-modern literature in which creation of an artwork is itself a subject of the book. He dubs this "poioumenon". (Its plural is poioumena. It seems to be pronounced pwee-OU-meh-non, rather like "phenomenon"). Citizen Kane is perhaps an ancestor of this sort of post-modernism.

In Citizen Kane, the look at the newsreel creation, symbolically gives insight to the making of Citizen Kane itself. In both Citizen Kane and many post-modernist books, the creation of the work itself is a subject. This gives Citizen Kane and such books a self-reflexive quality.

A Western?: Mining and Capitalism

The scenes at the mother's boarding house take place in the rural West pre-1900. Technically this makes Citizen Kane a Western. But it has very little "Western" feel, even in this boarding house scene. One Western touch: the triangle-shaped bell on the porch, a common feature used to summon cowhands in Westerns.

As far as I know, Orson Welles never made any other Westerns, as a director or writer. As an actor he starred in a film set in the modern-day West Man in the Shadow (Jack Arnold, 1957), and narrated a Canadian TV series Tales of the Klondike (1981). Twenty years later in This Is Orson Welles, Welles complained to Peter Bogdanovich about having to appear in a Western like Man in the Shadow. In Filming The Trial (1981), Welles tells USC students that he had only learned to like watching Westerns in recent years.

The emphasis on gold mining in the Western part of Citizen Kane perhaps finds an echo in some later full scale Westerns centered on mining. These later works are a closely connected series, but their links to Citizen Kane are distant. Like Citizen Kane, they explore both mining and capitalism. Also like Citizen Kane, they de-emphasize most traditional components of the Western, such as cowboys and horses, to concentrate instead on mining and its business implications:


The dissolves in Citizen Kane are beautifully designed to make geometric patterns, during the moment of superimposition. For example, when the opera singers appear simultaneously with the newspaper headlines, they are grouped around the rectilinear lines formed by the newspaper column. So are the opera audiences. The huge circular lights are also set so they blend seamlessly into the compositions.

The newspaper columns show Welles' interest in repeating vertical lines. One thinks of the hotel windows at the ledge finale of Journey Into Fear, or the arches on the downtown Venice buildings in Touch of Evil. Also the mirrors at the end of The Lady From Shanghai, although these are much narrower vertical panes, and much closer together.

There are also vertical lines in the scene where Bernstein is interviewed by the reporter. The windows make strong verticals.


Some of the shots of the baroque architecture of Xanadu at the beginning remind one of the baroque basilica in Sergei Eisenstein's Qué viva Mexico! (1932).

The grillwork gates recur in other Welles films.

The model house in the snowball has a peaked roof. Peaked roofs recur in Welles films.


Citizen Kane is notable for its complex mirror shots: Everett Sloane runs into a mirror the Citizen Kane Trailer.

Citizen Kane is often viewed as a stylistic precursor in film noir, both for its dazzling visual style, and its flashback structure. Mirrors and staircases are everywhere in film noir, and they are prominent in Citizen Kane too.

Other kinds of multiple images of people occur in Citizen Kane, without involving mirrors. The political speech has the real Kane, in front of a giant campaign picture.

The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) is considered by many Welles admirers to be his greatest film. I disagree. It is often visually creative, especially in elaborately compositions staged inside the Amberson mansion, and on the city streets. Its visual style makes the film very much worth watching. But otherwise, the film has many limitations.


The Magnificent Ambersons is the Welles work closest to ideals of Realism. It is based on a well-known Realist novel, by Booth Tarkington. Unlike the baroque Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons uses a straightforward linear approach to narration that is grounded in the Realist Novel. Many people in the arts view Realism as the highest goal of fiction, both in print and on film. If one thinks the approach of Realist Fiction is artistically superior to everything else, one will like The Magnificent Ambersons better than Welles' other work.

Many, many people today who specialize in literature and film regard Realism as the ultimate. A vast network of academics, writing training programs, and critics centers on Realism. The idea that less realistic works might be better than anything realistic is anathema to them.

In my judgement Orson Welles' best film, among those publicly released so far, is The Immortal Story. It is less Realistic than The Magnificent Ambersons, but a much better film. The idea that The Immortal Story or The Story of Samba are better than a Realistic work like The Magnificent Ambersons is hard for many people in our culture to grasp. The Magnificent Ambersons is also much inferior to the wildly creative Citizen Kane.

The Cut Scenes

To be fair on the subject of The Magnificent Ambersons and Realism, the existing version of The Magnificent Ambersons has been drastically cut. The continuity and dialogue of Welles' original version survives, and is available in the book This Is Orson Welles by Welles, Peter Bogdanovich and Jonathan Rosenbaum. It makes fascinating reading. Everyone who watches The Magnificent Ambersons should read this. It makes for an incomparably better artistic experience.

The cut scenes mainly deal with two interlocking topics:

The business investments of the Ambersons and the development of Indianapolis are interlinked.

Realistic fiction often shows society and how it functions, including business and industry. This topic was well-developed in the original version of The Magnificent Ambersons.

The Major's dying speech about the Sun is also an important casualty of the cuts. This is a memorably poetic monologue. It comes right out of the original novel The Magnificent Ambersons (end of Chapter 30), with some tiny modifications.

Gender: "Normalcy" and Bigotry

The villain of The Magnificent Ambersons is the spoiled young heir George. George has been ruined by his upbringing by his doting mother.

We see George as a boy. He has long hair and wears a skirt! He is essentially dressed like a little girl. This is the Psychological Root of all of George's troubles. He has not been raised to have proper male gender. George will spend the rest of his life and The Magnificent Ambersons ruining his mother's life, his own life, the Morgan family, and everyone else he meets.

George will destroy all these people's chances to get married: the highest good. He is the implacable enemy of heterosexual fulfillment.

George is not the only villain in American cinema to be raised as a little girl. On can argue he is less villainous in fact than the Nazi spy and saboteur in Saboteur (Alfred Hitchcock, 1942) and the serial killer in While the City Sleeps (Fritz Lang, 1956). All of these men's childhood gender issues allegedly caused them to grow up into villains. Welles, Hitchcock and Lang are all great filmmakers. But their treatment of people with non-standard gender is just plain wrong. It expresses bigotry towards a minority. It tells lies about what this minority can accomplish. In real life, many people in the LGBTQ community make major contributions to society.

George violates gender norms in other ways:

George abandons his girlfriend Lucy, to whisk his mother away to Europe. This is seen as a failure of heterosexuality on his part.

Welles' original version has a finale with Eugene telling about George and Lucy's reconciliation. This happens off-screen: we do not see it. Jonathan Rosenbaum's commentary in This Is Orson Welles talks insightfully about this finale as an off-trail, avant-garde ending that violates Hollywood tradition. One can also point out that a consequence of this scene is that we do not actually see George behaving in a heterosexual manner. A traditional Hollywood ending would have shown George proposing to Lucy at the end, behaving as a heterosexual hero. Welles refuses to do this. One suspects Welles thought this would undermine the portrait of George as anti-heterosexual built up during the film.

Aunt Fanny and Marriage

Aunt Fanny is a portrait of an unhappy "old maid". She is seen as having her life ruined, because she has been cheated out of romance, marriage and children. This is a common view in its era.

But it ignores the fact that in real life, many people are happier if they are not involved with heterosexual marriage. Some people prefer to be single. Others are part of the LGBTQ world, and want nothing to do with heterosexual marriage. There are indeed people like Aunt Fanny in real life, people who want heterosexual marriage but are unhappy because they failed to get it. But The Magnificent Ambersons gives no perspective, that real life also includes people who want no part of this institution.

A Bad Boy

George Amberson gets involved with some appealing activities in his early stages. A deleted scene has him hanging out with other young men at a club, the Friends Of The Ace. These are a bunch of very young men, maybe late teenagers, who want to be Bad Boys. These guys are satisfyingly dressed as sports and low life wanna-be's, in soft caps and tie-less jackets. They are a bunch of innocents who want to think of themselves as Bad Boys. George hanging out with them recalls Prince Hal hanging out with Falstaff and his friends in Chimes at Midnight.

The club has the old pirate symbol on its door, a skull and cross bones, like Marlon Brando's motorcycle club in The Wild One (1954). Welles would later play pirate Long John Silver in the film Treasure Island (1972).

George can go right from this to a fancy ball. He looks splendid in white tie and tails, the ultimate dressed-up look for men. George is clearly enjoying all this swagger.

At the ball, George expresses a wish that his mother had not invited the young men from a club he used to head. It is unclear if this is the Friends Of The Ace. In any case, his disdain shows a lack of loyalty to his friends. Later, these young men will undergo another transformation, as they pay tribute at the funeral of George's father. These young men seem dignified and decent.

George's early scenes show him having potential. He has a youthful energy and rebelliousness that could be used to build a life. George is far from being any sort of role model, with his anti-work attitude. But his brio might have been turned in a socially useful direction.

Unfortunately, he will later go off the rails with his mother, ruining everyone's lives.

Automobile Factory

There is a long take tracking shot in an automobile factory. As a piece of cinema, this is interesting.

We see a relatively small group of workers at the factory. Much of what they are doing seems more like craftsmanship than assembly line mass production. Their work resembles the personal craftsmanship that runs through other Welles movies.

Running through The Magnificent Ambersons is the rise of Eugene Morgan's company, Morgan Motors. At the start, we see Eugene with a barely functioning - but still successful - early horseless carriage. Near the end (in a deleted scene) we see Eugene in his office, with the company's sign outside his window. This recalls the rise of Kane's newspaper in the first half of Citizen Kane.

The factory in The Magnificent Ambersons is much smaller and simpler than those in real life. It's a Hollywood set, and as best I can tell, none too accurate. See three films showing real factories:

Unfortunately, many Americans today have rarely if ever been inside a factory, and know little about them. This is especially true of critics. I am not a blue collar worker either, but I did three computer projects in automotive factories in the 1980's, one in Anderson, Indiana, and the other two in Michigan, in Hamtramck and Livonia. One suspects this makes me one of the few critics who have both written on Welles and worked in an Indiana factory.


The Magnificent Ambersons continues Welles' interest in complex mirror shots: The sleigh scene has the characters reflected in water on the ground.

The Movie Theater

David Bordwell has a fascinating discussion of the movie theater, and the posters it displays. With more here.

The Bijou movie theater includes some favorite Welles geometric shapes:

The man on the movie poster of The Bugler of Battery B is another Welles "man carrying a big long object".

Tim Holt passes in front of movie poster showing father Jack Holt. This is related to Welles shots of "multiple images of a person". Such shots can show a person in front of images of either himself or other people.

Journey Into Fear

Genre: Spy films - and film noir

Journey Into Fear (1943) is right at the beginning of the film noir era. Its brilliant visual style certainly anticipates some film noir features, such as extreme camera angles, overhead shots, and scenes of night and rain. It is not clear that it is a "real" film noir, like the huge numbers Hollywood made in 1944- 1951. Instead, it perhaps seems like a film on the road to the evolution of noir.

For one thing, it is a spy movie, not a crime thriller. Spy movies became fairly common in the early days of World War II, both in England and the United States. They form an early alternative tradition, one that probably played an influencing role on the rise of film noir. Like many spy movies, Journey Into Fear is set abroad. Also like many spy films, it involves a chase over a great swath of territory, unlike many film noirs, which often take place within a single US city.

It is not clear if there is "alienation and obsession" here, Alain Silver's key identifying characteristics of noir. The hero and the other characters are involved in the fight against Nazis. They are normal people, not people struggling with an emotional obsession. There is paranoia here: Nazi murderers are lurking around every corner. And the way one Nazi villain plays the same record over and over certainly has qualities of obsession. It also shows Welles' constant attempts to experiment with unusual sound.


Parts of the finale of this film take place after the characters have crossed over into Soviet territory. As far as I can tell, these scenes are ideologically neutral. They neither endorse nor condemn Communism. Welles always said that he was a Roosevelt Democrat, and I have never seen any evidence that his politics was ever radical or supportive of the extreme left. He seems to have been a consistent liberal Democrat throughout his career.


I liked the magician character, played by the delightful character actor Hans Conried. Welles was a gifted magician himself, who toured with his magic act on stage. So a magician character is probably dear to Welles' heart.

It's All True

A Travel Documentary

It's All True (1942) is an unfinished film, shot by Orson Welles in Brazil. Much of the footage was edited into a restored version in 1993, which is widely available.

It's All True is a kind of film Welles will return to throughout his career. It is a documentary set in a fascinating foreign country, showing both the life of that country, and cultural events. These documentaries mix staged footage with actualities. They usually show activities Welles likes, and of which he strongly approves. Welles' personal attitude comes through emphatically.

Four Men On a Raft: Politics

The bulk of It's All True recreates a real-life political protest. Four Men On a Raft shows the remarkable voyage of four fisherman down the coast of Brazil. The daring voyage was staged as a politic protest. It asked the government to extend retirement benefits to fishermen, who were not previously covered. Such benefits were just beginning in the United States: Social Security had just been signed into law in 1935, and still didn't cover many classes of workers, to whom it would later be extended.

The protest recalls Kane's newspaper crusading for the working man in Citizen Kane. It differs in that this protest is by working people themselves, rather than a plutocrat like Kane. Kane is told off by Jeb, that he is not going to like it when the "working man" organizes himself and forms labor unions and struggles for himself. So Four Men On a Raft goes beyond what is shown in Kane, and shows the contemporary world where workers stand up for themselves.

The finale of the raft journey shows other boats joining the raft when it arrives in Rio. These are full of sailors waving congratulations. This recalls Citizen Kane:

Four Men On a Raft: Motion

At the journey's end, the raft is raised up by cords, then turned around in air. It is a striking, joyous looking motion. It forms a celebratory end to the journey.

The Story of Samba: Color

A segment of It's All True is in color: The Story of Samba shows the spectacular Carnival in Rio.

Overall, most of the Carnival scenes are organized around the three Primary Colors: red, yellow and blue. This is an extremely popular color scheme, in both painting and film. Some shots include all three colors. Others include just two of the three.

Some shots include a straightforward yellow. But the "yellow" in many shots is a metallic gold. Gold is popular in Carnival floats and costumes shown in The Story of Samba.

Some shots have a bright, traditional blue. In other shots, we get a very light pale blue, almost white.

Some shots are organized around a mixture of red and gold. This is a favorite Welles color scheme, that will return in later pictures.

A memorable shot focuses on a young man in a shiny gold shirt.

A few shots differ from the red-yellow-blue approach, by including people dressed in green.

The Story of Samba: Imagery

Several parade floats evoke different regions of the Ancient World: Welles in general did not seem to have too much interest in the Ancient World, or anything older than Shakespeare and Cervantes. Kane collects some old statues.

A spectacular parade float shows the Sun. This recalls the memorable speech about the Sun, by the Major in The Magnificent Ambersons. A wheel spins behind the sun, creating a complex effect mixing a moving and fixed image. This involves the rotary motion that occasionally appears in Welles.

Some traditional types of 19th Century military uniforms get spoofed in the Carnival. They are turned into brilliantly-colored exaggerations.

A shot tends to show a group of people in related costumes. Then a second shot will show a different group of related costumes. And so on. The variety of spectacular costumes anticipates the opening of The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979).

A group of men are dressed as primitive tribesmen. They carry bows and arrows, anticipating the archers in the battle in Chimes at Midnight. Many of the parade groups mix men and women. This group seems mainly male, however.

The Story of Samba: Geometry

One of the parade floats contains a giant globe. It is one of several objects in Welles films shaped like a sphere. The black-and-white footage of the Rio Carnival has both a mirror-covered sphere, and a glitter-covered sphere on a parade float.

Wheels of some of the parade floats are painted in spectacular ways. One is a design full of peacock feathers, echoing Welles' interest in birds.


Rio is shown in a spectacular panning shot, that slowly sweeps over much of the city. This is in the last stage of the raft journey.

A Carnival shot has a fascinating Art Deco skyscraper in the background, with the word "Mundo" on top. This is one of Welles' shots showing building facades.

The Stranger

The Stranger (1946) is a film noir crime thriller, about the hunt for a Nazi war criminal.

Social Commentary

The Stranger is important as one of the first films to discuss the Holocaust.

At the end, we have a Welles tradition: a mass assembly of "plain and ordinary people", as they are called in the film. The democratic political values they represent are contrasted to those of the Nazi villain.

The drug store owner makes his customers serve themselves. It's a subject of humor, suggesting he is too lazy to get out of his chair. But it also symbolizes democracy, with everyone equal and waiting on themselves.

Relationship to The Magnificent Ambersons

The Stranger has features that recall The Magnificent Ambersons. Both have:


Welles films often have elaborate staircases filled with balconies and landings. In The Stranger, the church has this form. It has a staircase, ladder, a choir loft, and higher lofts leading to the bell tower.

The docks at the start have multiple levels. Soon, we see ramps leading out of them.

Two locales have balconies, but without stairs shown on screen:

Richard Long is posed on a stairway in the background of a shot. This interior room is all on one level, and we do not see very high up the stairway.


The Stranger continues Welles' interest in mirror shots:

The Lady From Shanghai

Relationship to Touch of Evil

Much of the imagery in The Lady From Shanghai anticipates Welles' later film, Touch of Evil (1958). The earlier film is usually simpler; the ideas are developed in more complex style in the later film.

Both films are crime dramas, with California settings and location photography. Many early scenes in Lady take place in Central America and Mexico; these anticipate the border town that dominates the whole of the later film. The heroine is attacked by a group of young toughs here, in the opening New York sequence; more elaborate attacks occur in the later film. Men keep intruding themselves on the relationship between O'Hara and Hayworth here; more complex intrusions will occur in Touch of Evil.

Both films open with pedestrians walking by a slowly moving vehicle; the pace of the pedestrians and vehicle are counterpointed. Welles seemed to find the balance between the two kinds of movement interesting. The counterpoint is more elaborate in Touch of Evil. There is also the scene in Mr. Arkadin, where the hero and heroine dodge carts on a Spanish road - a similar handcart also shows up in the start of Touch of Evil. Later, in The Immortal Story, the sailor will run along side the slowly moving horse-drawn carriage carrying Mr. Clay. But, rather than counterpoint, the movement is completely synchronized: the hero keeps his hand on the carriage as it moves along.

After the cab ride, O'Hara and Rita Hayworth walk along to the garage, in a long take sequence. This too reminds one of another male-female couple, Heston and Janet Leigh, in their long take walk at the start of Touch of Evil.

One kind of shot in Lady is the long take, in which people arrive and depart, entering and leaving the shot. Shots like this include the scene in which Grisby's body shows up on a stretcher; and the scene where Bannister and his wife are discussing the case before the trial. This kind of shot is used extensively in Touch of Evil. In Lady, the entrance is often used for shock value. For example, O'Hara thinks Grisby is alive; the sudden pulling of his corpse into the shot is terrible, shocking news for him. The staging, with its entrance, underscores the disruption of O'Hara's world. The entrance soon after of the lawyer Bannister suggests further problems for O'Hara: he is the most powerful figure in the film, and the one most likely to be O'Hara's antagonist. So his sudden arrival suggests a further wrenching of O'Hara's life.

Welles weaves his camera through pillared walkways in the Mexico scenes. These too recall the complex opening shot of Touch of Evil, which uses the arched covered sidewalks of the town.

The large beach fire anticipates the scene of the burning car in Touch of Evil.

Another kind of shot: the dock scenes, which emphasize the vertical patterns formed by the docks. The patterns are hugely complex, and are further elaborated by the camera movement through them. These shots, too, recall those of the opening of Touch of Evil.

After the fake killing, when O'Hara lets off his gun, the docks are still a setting, but they are photographed in a very different way.


The yacht scenes and the beach picnic recall Welles' earlier It's All True (1942). In both films, scenes of boats in the water make complex, visually interesting compositions. The scenes near the rocky island, with people going ashore in small boats, anticipate the island scenes in Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura (1959-1960).

Welles liked to set mystery films aboard ship: see the middle sequence of Journey Into Fear, and The Deep. There are also sailor heroes in The Immortal Story and Mr. Arkadin, which opens on the harbor in Naples, and which contains some boat scenes.


Much of The Lady From Shanghai takes place at entertainment sites. These include: Many of these entertainments are fairly exotic. None of the lead characters seem to be having much fun, however; the sparkling settings contrast with the morose central characters, obsessed with their problems. Park scenes will later be central to F for Fake.

The brief scene in which O'Hara waits in the kitchen recalls the kitchen scenes in The Magnificent Ambersons. Both kitchens are quite elaborate and imposing.

The curving ramp at the parking garage at the beginning anticipates the ramps down which the characters slide in the fun house at the end.

The Aquarium

The Aquarium visit is one of Welles' visually elaborate set pieces. It recalls the zoo in Citizen Kane.

Some of the shots look like process work, with the characters filmed in front of movie screens showing fish. The process work is good, and normally I do not emphasize or feel concerned about whether I am watching process work in a movie, or not. But Welles has apparently done something unusual with the process shots in The Lady From Shanghai. It looks as if films of small tropical fish have been shot, then blown up to enormous size. The fish behind the hero and heroine look like giant sea creatures, far bigger than such fish get in real life. The effect recalls the even bigger parade floats of a dragon and other creatures in It's All True.


The Chinatown exteriors show Welles' skill with cityscapes and architecture. Welles has photographed some of his favorite kinds of buildings: A street light, seen from a high angle is one of the polyhedral glass containers seen in Welles films. It is part of a striking composition.


A beautiful composition shows both the hero and a pagoda reflected in a shop window near Chinatown.

The judge and his chess game are reflected in a window.

The glass-covered book case in the judge's office briefly reflects. This effect is subtle and not emphasized.

Plot Construction: Adultery leads to Crime

Frank Krutnik has linked The Lady From Shanghai to a series of film noirs centered around adultery, a series which began with Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity. See Krutnik's book In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity (1991). I would like to comment on this classification. On the level of plot this is very true. The plots of Double Indemnity school movies fall into three parts: These similarities in plot do not necessarily extend to style or thematic elements.

The Last Shots

The hero leaves the fun house, through a set of revolving bars. This is the kind of rotary motion Welles likes.

The last shot is a wonderful long take. It shows the deserted amusement park. The numerous signs help form the compositions.

King Lear

King Lear (1953) is a TV version of Shakespeare's play, with Welles acting in the title role. It was staged by famed British director Peter Brook, not by Welles. Welles is magnificent, and so are several of the other performers. Everyone should see this version of a great play with great acting.

Welles Imagery: Geometry

Welles didn't direct this film. And it is hard to see signs of imagery or techniques that appear in Welles-directed films.

The "hovel" where the characters take refuge in a storm is a windmill, in this version. The interior is full of giant wheels. This perhaps reflects Welles' interest in rotary motion. It is easy to imagine Welles suggesting such a setting to Brook. But it could just be a coincidence. Many famous films have mill settings: Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932), Foreign Correspondent (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940).

Cornwall's costume is full of triangles: a favorite Welles geometric figure. Handsome Scott Forbes looks spectacular in his costume. Forbes would soon be appearing in the TV series The Adventures of Jim Bowie (1956-1958). The finale of one of the best Bowie episodes The Beggar of New Orleans (Lewis R. Foster, 1957) has a Welles-like feel. Maybe Foster and/or Forbes were studying Welles.

Welles Imagery: Drama

The scene of King Lear reveling with his knights anticipates those of Falstaff reveling with his followers at the inn in Chimes at Midnight. All of these scenes come right out of Shakespeare. But they also have a Wellesian feel. These scenes are full of both earthiness and male bonding.

Cordelia at the end becomes one of the kidnapped women in Welles.

According to Simon Callow's notes for the DVD booklet, Welles nixed making an entrance in King Lear with two dogs: Brook's original plan. This makes a contrast with Welles' own films: a dog is prominent in The Stranger, and dogs also show up in Too Much Johnson, F for Fake. Callow humorously suggests that Welles didn't want to be upstaged by dogs. This is possible - but Welles also might have been frightened by having unpredictable animals in a live TV broadcast.


King Lear takes place in Ancient Britain in pagan times, before the introduction of Christianity. The dialogue of Shakespeare's play is full of references to the Roman gods. And unlike many Shakespeare plays in contemporary settings, there are few if any Christian references. All of this is part of Shakespeare's original play, and it is preserved in this film version.

Welles' own films repeatedly refer to Christianity, and regularly have sympathetic references to Jews. But they only rarely discuss paganism:

The world of King Lear is horrific, full of evil people running evil governments. Paganism is not shown to be the cause of this evil in King Lear. But it does indeed coexist with the worst sort of abuse.


King Lear is full of dialogue by mad or eccentric characters. Much of this does not make literal sense. It anticipates modern poetry. At times watching King Lear, one is forcibly reminded of Allen Ginsberg's Howl (1955).

Welles was rarely associated with literary modernism, or modernist poetry. However, in this same year 1953, he also made a record of Walt Whitman's poem Song of Myself. Welles had links to Kafka and Brecht.

Mr. Arkadin

Eric Ambler

Mr. Arkadin (1955) is a mystery thriller. Its plot is somewhat reminiscent of Eric Ambler's prose mystery thriller, The Mask of Dimitrios (1939) (also known as A Coffin for Dimitrios). Ambler was a famous spy novelist, and this was his best known book. Welles starred in the film version of Ambler's Journey Into Fear (1940), and most certainly would be familiar with his work. Welles and Ambler also shared a left-wing political orientation.

Links to Citizen Kane

Mr. Arkadin bears many resemblances to Citizen Kane:

The Hero

Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden) is a wonderfully sleazy character. He is a sort of low life hustler, of a kind purely confined to the early and middle 1950's. He recalls Ralph Meeker's characterization of Mike Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955). Both men are all dressed up in flashy, dressy, but somehow vulgar looking clothes. They seem like working class men's idea of cool. There is a sense of pathos in both men. They are working class types, out to try to get a little bit from a world dominated by rich monsters like Arkadin.


The arcade by the phone booth in Mexico is full of repeated arches. It recalls the store front arcades Welles would soon use in Touch of Evil, which also represent Mexico. Such arches run through The Immortal Story, and the bullfight episode of Around the World with Orson Welles.

The Christmas scenes seem almost like a parody of the party in The Magnificent Ambersons. We see the same high ceilinged rooms, the same decorations on every pillar and door frame, the same crowd of merry-making guests.

There are two spiral staircases.

The airport control tower is a polyhedral glass room. It shape anticipates the (much smaller) glass container holding Senta Berger in the magic act in Vienna. The Mr. Arkadin control tower also contains a woman, Raina.

An airport building contains that Welles favorite, a peaked roof.

Another airport building, in the finale, is in Art Deco style. Art Deco is not that common in Orson Welles. The building is striking geometric, including curves.

Camera Movement

The Christmas party has the camera repeatedly moving back and forth between two rooms. The camera moves in both directions. In some ways, this is a path / reverse path series of movements, with the camera both moving on a path between the two rooms, then reversing itself to go back along the same path, but in a reverse direction.


The penitentes are a Spanish tradition that go back hundreds of years. I recently saw a painting by the great Dutch artist Gerard Ter Borch, Procession With Flagellants (circa 1636-1640), based on a trip the artist made to Spain as a teenager. The subjects wear the same conical hooded costumes as in Welles' film. Borch's subjects were apparently members of a sect known as The Brotherhood of the Cross.

The party with the Goya masks shows Welles' deep interest in painting. They recall the Day of the Dead masks worn in Sergei Eisenstein's Qué viva Mexico! (1932), a major influence on Welles' work. The flagellants in Eisenstein's film also anticipate Welles.

The necklace worn by Katina Paxinou is echoed by the blinds of the windows behind her. The two look almost exactly the same, and it is sort of a visual pun.

Around the World with Orson Welles

Around the World with Orson Welles (1955) is a series of 26-minute TV documentaries, made for British television. The episodes survive, and have been collected and released on DVD.

Welles compared the series to home movies. This is a bit misleading. There are travelogue sections shot silent, edited together with narration by Welles - segments that do resemble in form the average person's vacation films of the era. But there are also extensive synch sound interviews with people Welles meets in his travels. These parts are a bit like a talk show, although they are generally set on locations where the person lives, rather than in a studio. In general, Welles resists "voice of authority" narration here, and tries to disguise his comments as elements of conversation with another character. Welles will also frequently show the camera, microphone, and the camera crews filming. It is part of the spectacle.

St.-Germain-des-Près: Personal Craftsmanship

The best of the series is the one dealing with an intellectual neighborhood of Paris, St.-Germain-des-Près. This features a long interview with Raymond Duncan, an eccentric American artist who was a long time resident. Duncan has a philosophy of doing everything for yourself, and is a craftsman who makes everything from his own printing press and type fonts, to the clothes he wears. It is hard not to compare this to Welles himself, and his do-it-yourself movies. And while Duncan's clothes are extremely unusual, Welles would spend much of his later years in costumes such as long capes and floppy bow ties, that were also both "artistic" and unique. Duncan's other major personal philosophy, never to imitate others or be a conformist, but always to stretch out in one's own direction, could also serve as a credo for Welles. So we are getting a philosophical statement of Welles' own life and beliefs here, as well. Duncan is an articulate man with a rich, resonant voice and a love of Shakespeare, also like Welles himself.

Duncan's authenticity serves as the direct opposite of all the swindlers and forgers to come in F for Fake (1973). He is an artist who represents the antithesis of these painters who use their skills to deceive. Both Welles documentaries have an artist at their center, both take place at least partly in France, both make philosophical statements about authenticity, both include Welles' on-screen presence, both show celebrated French historical buildings and landmarks, both have real intelligentsia filmed, both show scenes of evening life and the French having after hours fun, both show French trains in stations from the outside. Picasso's drawings of bullfighters are discussed in a later episode of Around the World with Orson Welles; a story about Picasso is dramatized in F for Fake.

There is a party atmosphere to this film. Everyone from Art Buchwald's secretary to people on the street look as if they are enjoying being filmed.

The other episodes are not quite as good. Perhaps this simply reflects my own prejudices: films about artists such as St.-Germain-des-Près have always fascinated me. Plus it is hard to resist a portrait of Paris and its intellectual life.

The episode has "intertitles" in the form of brief statements being typed on a reporter's typewriter. These newspaper scenes recall Citizen Kane. They also give a silent movie feel to the episode.

St.-Germain-des-Près: The Pan up the newspaper building

The pan up the newspaper building, the real Herald-Tribune in Paris, is a "Welles shot": a moving camera work that creates a series of compositions-in-motion, based on the complex architecture of the building. In a small, much shorter way, it anticipates the famed moving camera opening of Touch of Evil, to be made the next year. Welles first pans upward, then executes a complex lateral turn. The opening camera movement in Touch of Evil also involves shifts of direction, also in 90 degree turns.

Sound poetry, Music, Dancing and Sports Movements

In St.-Germain-des-Près, Welles will have sound-poets give demos of "letterisme", a sound-based art movement of the era. In the later episode, Pays Basque II (La Pelote basque), we will hear the unique long-distance cries of Basque pigeon-netters, and the musical score-keeping announcements during games of pelote. This interest in unique forms of vocal expression perhaps derives from Welles' background in radio.

Welles also includes much about music and dancing in both films. Both films celebrate cultures where intricate dance steps play a major role in ordinary people's entertainment.

Madrid Bullfight and Pays Basque II (La Pelote basque) focus mainly on sports: bullfighting and pelote. Both sports emphasize physical dexterity, and complex movements of the whole body. In this they resemble the dancing that plays a role in both St.-Germain-des-Près and Pays Basque II.

These two sports episodes are the closest in the series to conventional travelogues or documentaries. Both are quite absorbing to watch, and both have a great deal of visual style. Neither quite reaches the level of St.-Germain-des-Près, but both make gripping viewing.

Madrid Bullfight: Personal Craftsmanship

There is much less focus in Welles on actually fighting bulls, than in most films about bullfighting. Instead, Welles depicts the whole surrounding world of the bullfight, from the ranches where the bulls breed, to the architectural details of the arena. The bullfighters are seen not so much as killers, as representatives of a skilled, ancient tradition. This links them to Raymond Duncan, and to Welles himself. Such personal craftsmanship is part of Welles' ideal. Welles is deeply a man of the theater, a 2500 year old skilled profession, and has a "neighborhood grocery store" vision of himself.

One bullfighter's skill as a horseman is emphasized, in a dynamically filmed demonstration. This recalls Welles' character's skill with driving the carriage in The Lady From Shanghai.

The spectacular, Hispanic costumes worn by the matadors, even outside of the ring practicing their horsemanship, add glamour to the proceedings. One also thinks of Brazilian hero of It's All True and the Mexican policeman hero of Touch of Evil. Welles is definitely in touch with the tradition of the Latin Hero that was so important to films from Valentino onward.

Madrid Bullfight has a brief autobiographical moment, in which it is revealed that Welles himself had been a picador in Spain during his youth. There will be a longer autobiographical sequence, in Welles' later documentary, F for Fake.

Madrid Bullfight: Architecture

The arcades that are a Welles trademark show up in the bullring, in the title credits. There are two stories of corridors, with Welles' beloved rounded arches topping pillars at the top. The exterior of the bullring is also full of arched doorways, which form much of the background of the mid-section of the episode. Later, at the farm, we will see bulls driven through a rounded arch into a pen. At the bullring, there is a spectacular view of the cars and pedestrians outside the ring, shot through a scalloped arch. There are similar series of arches in the bullring of Sergei Eisenstein's Qué viva Mexico! (1932), which probably influenced this film.

An overhead shots of the bullpens is one of the most striking in this film - which is all deeply architectural. These bullpens are made up out of the regular, repeated units that recall the San Francisco docks in The Lady From Shanghai and the opening shot arcades in Touch of Evil. Like the docks, and unlike the arcades, the bullpens are mainly rectilinear. Even here, there are some unique narrow doors with arched tops, wide enough for humans but not bulls. Welles uses his trademark somewhat overhead angle to give us a broad, detailed view of the architecture.

Before the bullfight, Welles shows public spectators at galleries, watching bulls in a pen below. The galleries run above the pen, which forms a central courtyard below. This recalls the galleried courtyards in the Tamiroff episode of Mr. Arkadin. Welles loves such multi-storied structures. There are also multistoried arcades on the facade of the church that runs through Pays Basque II (La Pelote basque).

Circular forms play a role as well. We see crowds gathering on curving outdoor staircases near the bullring. And the circular wall of the ring itself is frequently seen in shots.

The Tynans introduce the film standing in front of a wall filled with posters. There are also the notices all over the inside and exterior of Duncan's studio in St.-Germain-des-Près. This anticipates all the Chinese banners and signs that are so important to the compositions in The Immortal Story.

Chelsea Pensioners

Chelsea Pensioners and Pays Basque I (The Basque Countries) concentrate on interviews with ordinary people. The interviews, with Welles asking them about their lives, recall a bit the framework story of Citizen Kane. These interviews tend to the dull side in terms of content. And there is not much visual interest in such interviews, either. These inoffensive episodes constitute the low point of the series. By contrast, the 11-year-old in Pays Basque II (La Pelote basque) is a natural, offering terrific color commentary throughout.

Chelsea Pensioners deals with retirees in London. Welles presents them as examples of "independent" life, like Duncan in the other film. A call for Americans to resist conformity is issued in many of these episodes. While the series was shown on British TV, the audience addressed philosophically throughout seems to be modern day Americans. Perhaps Welles hoped to sell the show to American TV networks. Welles would move back to the US in October 1955, shortly after completing these films.

The opening of Chelsea Pensioners is shot right across from the stage door of a famed London musical hall, the Hawley Empire. Welles had shot Moby Dick - Rehearsed (1955) there, and he mentions that he had shot "a movie" in this celebrated venue.

The Basque episodes

For obscure reasons, Welles has the same opening and closing sequences in the two Basque episodes, Pays Basque I (The Basque Countries) and Pays Basque II (La Pelote basque). The shared sequences are very good. Aside from this, part I is mainly a series of interviews, and not very interesting, whereas part II is a beautifully filmed documentary about life, sports and dance in the region.

Both Basque episodes end with the same sequence: a festival with a metallic bull shooting off fireworks, recalling a similar artificial-bull-with-fireworks in Sergei Eisenstein's Qué viva Mexico! (1932). These sequences recall the Chinatown processions near the end of The Lady From Shanghai.

Borders. The Basque episodes open right on the border of France and Spain. Later, there is a sequence of the border being opened to celebrate the holiday of Pentecost. This recalls the border elements of Journey Into Fear and Touch of Evil. The footbridge that links the two sides anticipates the bridge finale of Touch of Evil. In both films, the bridges are full of pedestrians.

Storytelling. Welles' brief discussion of storytelling at the end, invoking Basque traditions, anticipates in a small way the subject matter of The Immortal Story.

Childhood. Pays Basque II (La Pelote basque) contains the most explicit look at childhood in Welles' cinema. The 11-year old hero is depicted as having an ideal existence, getting to take part in traditional sports, music and travel. This echoes the re-creation of traditional US Midwestern lifestyles and amusements that opens The Magnificent Ambersons. It also recalls the earliest scenes of Kane's life. The boy here is privileged over Welles, sitting above him in trees or on walls, and giving Welles the inside scoop on Basque traditions. Welles here reflects other 1950's movies, especially Westerns, which often included boy characters with whom youthful viewers could identify.

The Fountain of Youth

A TV Pilot

The Fountain of Youth (filmed 1956, broadcast 1958) is a half-hour TV pilot, for a series that was never produced. The comedy-drama includes science fiction elements, along with much sophisticated comedy.

The Fountain of Youth is based a short story by John Collier, "Youth from Vienna". At the end, narrator Welles announces next week's show in the proposed series, "Green Thoughts", based on another short story by Collier, about an orchid. Unfortunately, neither "Green Thoughts" nor any other episodes were actually filmed.

An Experimental Film: Mixing Stills and Moving Images

The Fountain of Youth uses experimental filming techniques. It mixes still photographs of the actors and drama, with conventional moving images.

Breakdown (Alfred Hitchcock, made for TV, 1955) was filmed as a prologue with motion, and a main film entirely as a series of still photographs. Breakdown is a grim suspense thriller, while The Fountain of Youth is a giddy comedy. The way that The Fountain of Youth moves back-and-forth between stills and moving images, without any apparent rhyme or reason other than the director's whim, helps create the giddy, anything goes feeling of the film. By contrast, the strict use of pure stills in most of Breakdown likely underscores its solemn nature.

Both films anticipate La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962), which is mainly filmed with stills, together with a brief moving image.

The stills are linked in The Fountain of Youth to a concrete technology: a magic lantern slide projector. This is seen as an "old-fashioned" technology, shown while old-style music is played. It's an evocation of the world of the past, and its entertainment.

Narrator Welles sometimes stands in front of still images of characters. This is an example of that Welles approach, "multiple images of people".

One might note that 1950's US television was occasionally experimental. Confessions of a Nervous Man (Paul Nickell, 1953) doesn't do anything as formally avant-garde as mixing photos and moving images. But it does contain a wild farrago of material, as part of its comic story. It's a gem that should be better known. So should his unusual drama An Almanac of Liberty (1954). Both were part of the Studio One drama series.

An Experimental Film: Mixing in Drawn Images

When the heroine starts seeing images of herself grown decayed, these seem to be paintings. Mixing painted images with filmed ones is also experimental.

It recalls Carnegie Hall (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1947), which shows a drawn version of the exterior of Carnegie Hall, and The Man From Planet X (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1951), which perhaps uses a painting for its spaceship interior.

The Fountain of Youth also uses stylized backdrops, such as the silhouettes of lab equipment. These might well be drawn images.

Welles is shown near the beginning against out-of-focus, purely abstract backgrounds. This is a rare use of abstraction in Welles films.

Links to Welles Subjects

Some Welles films show skepticism about technological "advances" actually causing harm instead: the automobile in The Magnificent Ambersons, the anti-aging drug in The Fountain of Youth. The Fountain of Youth is a science fiction film. It has links to technology-produced dystopias, such as Brave New World (Aldous Huxley, 1932), which also suggest that technology is leading to a worse future.

The "ideal young couple" shows the same smarmy materialism as people in Mr. Arkadin. This is a look at mid-1950's "beautiful people" and their superficial lives.

The debate in front of the mirror, is a series of linked scenes that show the couple's marriage breaking down over a long period. This recalls the series of breakfast scenes in Citizen Kane, which depict the collapse of the Kane marriage.

Welles likes to show newspaper people. The Fountain of Youth has a wide variety of journalists: gossip columnists, photographers, science writer for magazines, radio broadcaster. These are not all newspaper people, strictly speaking: some work for magazines or radio. We get a look at the science writer creating publicity for the scientist: he is very successful at it!

The Welles subject of androgyny gets linked to Welles himself, as on-screen narrator:

The Debate: Mirror and Architecture

The long debate between the couple, is mainly filmed in front of the mantel where the formula sits. Behind the couple, we see elaborate building facades through the window. Such building facades are a Welles tradition. Those in The Fountain of Youth show large scale, sophisticated urban buildings, as do other Welles films.

On top of the mantel is a mirror, allowing Welles to create the mirror shots he loves. These mirror images often encompass not only the couple, but the window and building facades behind them.


The 1920's news photographers use flashes held on long poles. The poles form the slightly tilting vertical lines Welles likes.

The Immortal Story

The Immortal Story (1968) is one of Orson Welles' best movies. This work is very rich, both in its subject matter, and its baroque visual style. It is Welles' most beautiful movie.

We'll start out with a brief discussion of the film's characters and themes. But most of the discussion will be of Welles' visual style. Everyone agrees that Welles' movies do not look like any one else's. Frame after frame of Welles' films contain spectacular compositions that are only found in the work of Orson Welles. These complex, gorgeous images have been dubbed "Welles shots". While the visual aspect of Welles' work is universally admired - "Welles shots" have been famous for sixty years, and were mentioned in the 1950's by Truffaut - there has been little attempt to analyze them in concrete terms. Just what do "Welles shots" consist of? What techniques and approaches are used by Welles to create his famous "Welles shots"?


All four of the main characters of The Immortal Story have ancestors in previous Welles films. They are extensions of characters who fascinated and preoccupied Welles though his career.

The characters of rich, unscrupulous business man Mr. Clay and his far more moral, and highly loyal Jewish clerk Mr. Levinsky, recall Citizen Kane and his business manager Mr. Bernstein. The mention of the pogroms which wiped out Elishama Levinsky's family recalls Welles' pioneering discussion of the Holocaust in The Stranger, perhaps the first in any fiction film. The prophecy from Isaiah is one of the few discussions of religion anywhere in the available films of Orson Welles. The first name Elishama also recalls the prophet Elisha.

The woman's somewhat raffish home here recalls Marlene Dietrich's in Touch of Evil. She is telling fortunes, like Marlene's character in the earlier film - a subject that relates to the prophecy that is a central theme of the movie. She also offers skeptical opposition to Welles' character, just like Marlene. The cards look like Tarot cards, just as in Welles' admirer Curtis Harrington, and his Night Tide (1960) and Games (1967), and like Agnès Varda in Cléo de 5 à 7 (1961).

Mr. Clay is a wealthy businessman who winds up alone, in a big house. This recalls Citizen Kane, and The Magnificent Ambersons. Welles himself came from an upper middle class American WASP background, which he recreated in such films as The Magnificent Ambersons and The Stranger.

Mr. Clay has rejected his partner, because he was not able to accept his friendship. This is like Kane's rejection of his best friend Jedediah. Jedediah is often seen as a gay character. Here, Mr. Clay has never been attracted to a woman, and there are suggestions that he is a gay man whose rejection of his partner was based in a lack of acceptance of gay relationships, or perhaps a deep coldness. Mr. Clay's hiring of the sailor is also compared by Mr. Levinsky to the heroine's sexual encounter with the sailor - a suggestion that this is a gay relationship at last. This scene includes a long close-up of the sailor's rear, a gay overtone.

The sailor is one of many sympathetic sailing men in Welles, such as the heroes of It's All True and The Lady From Shanghai. The hero of Mr. Arkadin is also introduced on the docks. Working class characters in Welles tend to be sailors. The heroes of both The Lady From Shanghai and Mr. Arkadin are hired by unscrupulous, wealthy businessmen, like the sailor in The Immortal Story.

The rest of this article will deal with Welles' visual style.

The Opening Shot

The title shot shows two sails of a boat in the foreground, and a deep focus stair between two buildings. This is similar to the first shot of Mr. Arkadin, which shows two large pieces of machinery in the foreground, and a deep focus outdoor passage between them. The Mr. Arkadin shot is all on one level, whereas here we already have one of Welles' staircases. This title shot already has two series of Chinese banners, which will play a major role in many of the film's exteriors.

Rectangles, Architecture and Staircases

The film's second shot shows a panorama of buildings and balconies. These are full of Chinese banners, shutters, balcony regions, windows, and other rectangular regions, arranged in a series of horizontal bands across the screen. The effect is like a work of abstract painting. Its rectilinear qualities evokes Mondrian. Its bands of abstract images recalls paintings by Klee and Kandinsky. Welles' filmmaking in Citizen Kane recalled German Expressionism, including Fritz Lang. Here he is evoking German abstract painting of the same era.

When the businessmen come out to discuss Mr. Clay, they are shown against another set of buildings with balconies. These too furnish a series of rectilinear regions arranged into a broader grid. Here, many of the regions consist of a series of repeated bars or slats - shutters, staircases, partitions, undersides of balconies. These echoes between the various kinds of repeated bars give a visual unity to the design. It also suggests an ingenious, fascinating world behind the characters - a sort of visual fantasy land in which the eye can wander delightedly. The multi-storied nature of the buildings recalls a bit the multi-storied staircase in The Magnificent Ambersons. Like the staircase in that film, the buildings in The Immortal Story contain angles, including sections which join together at other than 90 degrees. Welles juxtaposes shots of these building sections, stressing the angles between them, and the heads of his players. It gives a complex background to the dialogue. The buildings also recall the balconied, many-storied courtyard of the building housing Akim Tamiroff at the end of Mr. Arkadin.

The file drawers recall the huge filing room in Touch of Evil. Each drawer here is of a different color of wood. They make another series of varied rectangles arranged in horizontal rows, like the opening shots of the film. However, they are stretched out at an angle behind Mr. Levinsky, giving a 3D effect.

Mr. Clay's home has one of the most complex staircases in Welles. This recalls a long tradition of staircase shots, both in Welles, and in the film noir that Welles influenced. Here, pairs of people encounter each other on the stairs, also a Welles tradition. The stair has vertical bars, like the doors in the house, and the balconies outside early in the film.

The Carriage

Mr. Clay is shown riding in a horse-drawn, open carriage. This is like the cab driver played by Welles in The Lady From Shanghai, and even more like the photo of the teenage Welles in F for Fake. The two elaborate chairs in which he sits later also have a bit of a carriage-like effect.

The sailor runs along with the carriage, holding on to while the horses draw it along. The contrasting rhythms of the horses and the man make one of the best counterpoint effects in Welles. Welles often built scenes out of rhythmic effects: the repeating record at the start of Journey Into Fear, the flashing neon signs in Touch of Evil.


Welles has a series of repeating mirrors in Mr. Clay's home. These allow reflections to infinity, as in Citizen Kane. They also recall the fun-house mirrors in The Lady From Shanghai.

In The Immortal Story, a second mirror is placed at right angles to the infinite repeating mirrors. One can see its frame reflected inside the frame of the repeating mirrors, and vice versa. These mirror frames extend the imagery of box-like rectangular regions, that run through the early sections of the movie. The frames are at right angles to each other, something Welles frequently uses for complex effects in his films: see the famous opening of Touch of Evil, for example.

Later in the film, we see the sailor in the mirrors, walking past, while the early shots show a seated Mr. Clay, eating. The sailor shots are staged so that his reflections come in close pairs, with longer gaps between the pairs. The shots show Welles' delight at experimenting with different kinds of mirror effects in his movies.


In Mr. Clay's home, we see a series of repeated arches. These echo other repeated arches in the street. Both sets recall downtown Venice in Touch of Evil, and its colonnades of arches. Here, the arches are more than one level deep, however: we see arches framed within arches, including a door in deep focus in the background. The arches are echoed by the arch of Mr. Clay's chair. This is one of the most striking images of the film, with the chair arch being the mirror image of the room arches. The double level of arches recalls the Mexican arcade in Mr. Arkadin, and Katina Paxinou's home, in which one parabolic-arched doorway is seen at right angles within another, to highly unusual effect.

The heroine's walk with Levinsky: A compositional masterpiece

The moving camera shot in which the heroine first walks along with Levinsky is perhaps the most dazzling in the movie. They pass by and under a series of hanging Chinese signs and banners. The shot recalls Josef von Sternberg, who frequently employed tracking shots along paths in which many objects hang in the foreground. However, these signs are more solid than Sternberg's typical nets or curtains. The shot's brilliant use of varied colors for the signs is also unique.

The heroine and Levinsky pass by a huge Chinese umbrella, the start of a series of circular forms that will gradually invade the picture. Next, they are in a beautiful shot with mist, also a Sternberg-like effect. They wind up by a building whose step-like, zigzag border is echoed by a series of step-like seats underneath a tree.

Red and Spheres: The Dinner Scene and the Bedroom

The dinner scene with the sailor recalls the paintings of Vermeer. There is a huge gold chandelier, much like those that appears in Vermeer's paintings. And we see wine in a crystal glass and bottle, also a favorite study of Dutch still life painting. The flaming red background here is not Dutch-like, but it does underscore the painterly quality of these shots. Both the glass and the base of the bottle have spherical shapes, and are filled with red wine. Soon, we will see the candles in the bedroom surrounded by spherical red guards. This shot, in which the candles, candelabra, and the spherical guards are all partly reflected in the mirror, is one of the most complex in the film.

The Finale

The sailor is in an alley, near the shadow of a palm tree when introduced. The last shots of him leaving the grounds also contain palm trees. Similarly, when the sailor gets out of jail near the start of Mr. Arkadin, he is seen near a palm tree on a Mediterranean street. While on the porch at the end of The Immortal Story, the heroine is shown surrounded by vines, just as she was surrounded by flowers earlier in the bedroom.

The porch at the end has a peaked roof, like the train station to come in F for Fake. An early shot here contrasts the tall vertical rectangle of a doorway to the left, with a squarer region behind Mr. Levinsky to the right. The two regions are in dynamic balance. Later, many shots of the porch will stress that it is partly screened in by lattice work, and partly not, an odd effect. This too will be used to give a sort of balance between two different regions of the shot.

Welles' chair in the finale has a spherical head. It adds curves to the otherwise rectilinear porch. So does the spiral shell.

The shell that falls from Mr. Clay's hand when he dies, recalls the glass snowball in Citizen Kane. It does not shatter, however. It was intended by the sailor as a present for the heroine; instead Mr. Levinsky winds up listening to it, in the film's haunting finale.


Vienna (filmed circa 1968) is a short documentary or non-fiction film. It was made as part of a TV special Orson Welles directed, Orson's Bag (filmed circa 1968, 1969) which was never broadcast.

In the book This Is Orson Welles, this segment of Orson's Bag is briefly referred to as Spying in Vienna. (See the Chronology in This Is Orson Welles for 1970, which gives credits for Orson's Bag.) Spying in Vienna is a good title, partly because it has comic passages on spies, and partly because it has Welles viewing Vienna locations, and thus "spying" around the city.

Television References

There are comic references in the magic act to American TV of the era:

Links to The Immortal Story

The style of the first half of Vienna is visibly indebted to The Immortal Story: The Immortal Story was shot in 1966, roughly two years before Vienna.

Links to Touch of Evil

The comic second half of Vienna burlesques subjects from Touch of Evil:

Welles Subjects

Welles talks about his childhood consuming Viennese pastries. This is another evocation of boyhood life in Welles.

The man who is good with birds in the park, recalls the cockatoo in Citizen Kane.

Welles celebrating the prettiness of two women on the street, recalls him admiring the chorus girls in the Citizen Kane Trailer.

Vienna concludes with Welles doing a magic act.

The kidnap victim in the bag, is another of the long objects carried by men in Welles films.

F for Fake

F for Fake (1973) seems like a minor work in the Welles oeuvre. Its chief limitation: most of the images in the film lack the compositional brilliance of Welles' best work. Its second biggest problem: its main subjects, Clifford Irving and Elmyr, lack interest as people.

Autobiography and Green Fields: the best parts of the film

Three segments are far and away the best parts of the picture: All three sequences share a mood, and a common visual style. They center on parks and landscapes, and have a common mood of melancholy reflection. Their visual strength is due to all three being shot by Welles - whereas much of the rest of the film includes re-edited footage shot by other people. Both the photograph of Welles as a teenage artist, and the modern day shots of Welles in the park, put Welles into outdoor, tree-filled areas. Their lush greenness recalls the dying Falstaff, who "babbled of green fields". This is part of Welles' self-image as an artist.

Welles is driving a horse-drawn cart in the old photo; he is first seen near a horse-drawn cab in The Lady From Shanghai. The association of Welles and horse-drawn vehicles also recalls The Magnificent Ambersons, and its skepticism about the Automotive Age.

Fanning Vertical Lines, jutting up from the base of the image

The nude study of Oja Kodar and the paint brushes, recalls the giant arrows sticking in the air from the machine before the battle of Shrewsbury, in Chimes at Midnight. Both the brushes and the arrows are a series of strong vertical lines of largely equal length, fanning out at a diagonal to each other, jutting upwards. Both are phallic symbols. The many trees in the park during the autobiographical section, are also strong vertical lines, jutting up from the base of the frame. Both the brushes, and the trees, are in the lower sections of the frame - they mainly do not reach the upper edge of the film frame.

The Train Station

The train station at the film's start has ceilings, that are worked into complex compositions, an ancient Welles tradition. The grill work in the train station also recalls the geometric backgrounds of the walls in Chimes at Midnight and The Immortal Story.

The Rectangles - and The Immortal Story

A fine image of Welles shows him talking against a background of orange rectangles. These shapes, beautifully composed, recall the Chinese banners in The Immortal Story. Just as these banners formed rectangular regions in the background of the heroine and Mr. Levinsky during their walk, so do these rectangles form a background for Welles speaking. Their orange color recalls the warm hues of the Chinese banners, which were different shades of orange and orange-red.

F for Fake differs from The Immortal Story, in that these rectangles seem sleekly modernistic. They look like the sort of design that might be found in a glittering modern day office building. Some of Welles' later projects will have this sort of modernistic set design, including the pilot for Welles' unsold TV talk-show (1978-1979). The talk show pilot will be made a few years after F for Fake, and have the same sort of warm, utterly vivid and burning colors. Both will be filmed by Gary Graver.

The rectangles also differ in that they are hollow inside, while the Chinese banners are solid.


The material throughout the film is carefully edited. In fact, much of the film can be described as montage. The editing is most elaborate, creating complex rhythmic patterns, and strange echoes between each pair of shots that are joined together. Much of the claim of F for Fake to be considered as a work of art, centers on the editing of the film. The emphasis on editing, combined with the scenes of the film itself being edited on a moviola, recall The Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1928). Welles' film is as much of a montage film, as are many of the early Soviet classics. In addition to the reels of film, Welles also cuts back and forth between "reality", and the film being edited in a smaller screen. The effect is often startling.

Crooks: A Separate World

The sections with Irving & Elmyr thematically recall the early sequences on the boat in The Lady From Shanghai:

Modern Art and Art Experts

Welles' narration expresses much skepticism about art experts, those people who claim to be able to tell real paintings from forgeries, purely on the basis of visual style. Later sections of the film express a more complex skepticism about the art of Picasso, himself.

One recalls seeing Welles on the Tonight Show, ridiculing the work of Christo, the artist who specialized in wrapping cliffs and other large outdoor art installations. Clearly, the world of modern art was important to Welles, and he had strong beliefs about it.

Howard Hughes

The end of the autobiographical section deals with Welles' proposed film about Howard Hughes. Here we see a wealth of newsreel images of Hughes, combined with some still photographs. These newsreels seem to have been a primary source of inspiration to Martin Scorsese on his biopic about Hughes, The Aviator (2004). Many of the scenes in them are recreated in Scorsese's picture - not surprisingly, as they present key moments in Hughes' life. Welles' treatment of Hughes is far more negative than Scorsese's, viewing Hughes as another of the con men who are the subject of F for Fake.

F for Fake Trailer

The F for Fake Trailer (1976) is a nine-minute short film, created by Orson Welles as a trailer for his movie F for Fake. It is far from being any sort of conventional Coming Attraction. Instead, it should be considered as a short film in its own right, albeit one with close ties to F for Fake.

Oja Kodar is presented in the F for Fake Trailer as an International Woman of Mystery. The shots of her and the tiger make her character seem like a dangerous-but-sexy woman, recalling Rita Hayworth in The Lady From Shanghai.

Multiple Images - and a link to the finale of The Lady From Shanghai

Several of the shots involve more than one image of a person. Welles uses a number of strategies to accomplish this: The multiple images of people recall the finale of The Lady From Shanghai. In that film, a Hall of Mirrors created the multiple images. Here, it is filming strategies. But the compositional effect is often surprisingly similar. The F for Fake Trailer also has a strong rhythmic pulse, also like the finale of The Lady From Shanghai.

Rectangles often frame the characters in the F for Fake Trailer. Photographs of the characters are accompanied by prominent borders. These also form rectangles behind the characters.

Filming The Trial

Filming The Trial (1981) is a filmed record of Orson Welles answering students' questions at the University of Southern California (USC), about both his work as a whole, and the making of The Trial.

Welles reportedly planned to incorporate this material into a detailed autobiographical film, recounting his production of The Trial. This never happened. In this sense, Filming The Trial is an "unfinished film". However, the question-and-answer session feels perfectly complete in itself.


It is a simple format, but a pleasant one. Both the questions and Welles' answers are often stimulating. The students are highly intelligent, know a lot about Welles' work and filmmaking in general. The questions are thoroughly intellectual.

It is a pleasure to see Welles in an intellectual environment. One wishes there were more records of Welles getting recognition from the intelligentsia.

Filming The Trial serves as evidence, of how intellectual US film students were in 1981. These are the sort of hard core intellectuals one associates with the 1960's.

Links to The Stranger

Filming The Trial has elements in common with The Stranger. Both:


Welles' insistence that he has a good relationship to society, is the exact opposite of George's total disdain for society and the work activities of humans in it, in The Magnificent Ambersons. George is something of a villain, and The Magnificent Ambersons might be read as condemning George's ideas. But The Magnificent Ambersons also allows George to expound them at length, and maybe also shows some sympathy to them.

Both The Magnificent Ambersons and The Stranger have scenes where the characters sit around the dinner table, discussing serious social issues. These scenes have much of the same approach as Filming The Trial, where Welles and film students discuss serious topics. While Filming The Trial is a "documentary" and The Magnificent Ambersons and The Stranger are "fiction", the actual content and approach in these scenes is quite similar.

Welles gives a rousing defense of making films for children. And also for "children of all ages". This is perhaps related to Welles' depiction of traditional childhood in other films.


Welles presents himself as a man of the theater, and discusses some intellectual playwrights. This is in keeping with the intellectual tone of Filming The Trial: Welles expresses skepticism about the work of film director Abel Gance, as well as a fair-and-balanced look at Gance's positive achievements.

A Film Being Made

Filming The Trial self-reflexively shows itself being filmed. It thus becomes one of those Welles films which show a film being made.

The sound recording is especially discussed: linking Filming The Trial to Welles films which show sound being recorded. Such films more often depict tape recorders: something not seen in Filming The Trial.