This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

3Dec/18

ACTOR FOR HIRE: THE OTHER SIDE OF ORSON WELLES

Orson Welles makes one of the greatest entrances in film history in The Third Man

THE THIRD MAN (Carol Reed, 1949)
Quad Cinema
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Friday, December 7, 9:00, and Sunday, December 9, 8:30
Series runs December 7-13
212-255-2243
quadcinema.com

In order to finance his career as a director (and pay off tax debts), Orson Welles acted in other people’s films and made television commercials, from the sublime to the ridiculous; between 1958 and 1961 alone, he appeared in or narrated nearly a dozen and a half movies. In conjunction with the celebrated release of the long-unfinished project The Other Side of the Wind, about attempts to complete a Hollywood auteur’s final film after his death, the Quad is presenting “Actor for Hire: The Other Side of Orson Welles,” running December 7-13 and consisting of thirteen movies the Boy Genius acted in but did not write or direct. The very best of them is The Third Man, screening December 7 and 9. (Among the rarer, less-well-known entries are Henry Hathaway’s The Black Rose, Matt Cimber’s Butterfly, Henry Jaglom’s A Safe Place, and Bert I. Gordon’s Necromancy.) Carol Reed’s 1949 thriller is quite simply the most entertaining film you’re ever likely to see. Set in a divided post-WWII Vienna amid a thriving black market, The Third Man is heavy in atmosphere, untrustworthy characters, and sly humor, with a marvelous zither score by Anton Karas. Joseph Cotten stars as Holly Martins, an American writer of Western paperbacks who has come to Vienna to see his old friend Harry Lime (Welles), but he seems to have shown up a little late.

While trying to find out what happened to Harry, Martins falls for Harry’s lover, Anna (Alida Valli); is told to get out of town by Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) and Sergeant Paine (Bernard “M” Lee); meets a stream of Harry’s more interesting, mysterious friends, including Baron Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch) and Popescu (Siegfried Breuer); and is talked into giving a lecture to a literary club by old Mr. Crabbin (Wilfrid Hyde-White). Every scene is a finely honed work of art, filled with long shadows, echoing footsteps, dripping water, and unforgettable dialogue about cuckoo clocks and other strangeness. The shot in which Lime is first revealed, standing in a doorway, a cat brushing by his feet, his tongue firmly in cheek as he lets go a miraculous, knowing smile, is one of the greatest single moments in the history of cinema.

A Man for All Seasons

Orson Welles stars as Cardinal Wolsey in Fred Zinnemann’s A Man for All Seasons

A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (Fred Zinnemann, 1966)
Quad Cinema
Saturday, December 8, 1:00, and Tuesday, December 11, 5:00
quadcinema.com

Orson Welles plays the real-life Cardinal Wolsey in Fred Zinnemann’s majestic adaptation of Robert Bolt’s 1962 Tony-winning stage drama, A Man for All Seasons. Paul Scofield won a Tony for the Broadway production as well as an Oscar as Sir Thomas More in the classic film, which earned a total of six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Bolt. Unable to produce a male heir with his wife, Catherine, King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) is seeking a divorce in order to marry Anne Boleyn (Vanessa Redgrave), but that would mean going against church doctrine, something the honest and principled Sir Thomas refuses to do. Sir Thomas finds himself at odds not only with the cardinal and the king but also with Thomas Cromwell (Leo McKern) and the ruthlessly ambitious Richard Rich (John Hurt). His friend the Duke of Norfolk (Nigel Davenport) tries to get him to sign a document allowing the king to divorce and remarry, changing the power of the church, begging him, “Oh, confound all this. I’m not a scholar. I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not. But damn it, Thomas, look at these names! Why can’t you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship!” Sir Thomas famously replies, “And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?”

It’s a spectacular moment in a film filled with spectacular moments as More’s wife, Alice (Wendy Hiller), daughter, Margaret (Susannah York), and potential son-in-law, William Roper the Younger (Corin Redgrave), want him to reconsider his choices and the king himself states his case, but Sir Thomas isn’t budging; he’s one of the most principled, brilliant characters ever put on celluloid, in one of the best historical dramas ever made. And in a key scene, Welles has this wonderful exchange with Scofield: “That thing out there, at least she’s fertile,” a dour Cardinal Wolsey says, referring to Anne. “But she’s not his wife,” Sir Thomas responds. “No, Catherine’s his wife, and she’s barren as a brick. Are you going to pray for a miracle?” the cardinal asks, to which More concludes, “There are precedents.”

Orson Welles

Will Varner (Orson Welles) runs just about everything and everybody in The Long, Hot Summer

THE LONG, HOT SUMMER (Martin Ritt, 1958) & COMPULSION (Richard Fleischer, 1959)
TLHS: Saturday, December 8, 5:40, and Thursday, December 13, 5:00
C: Sunday, December 9, 6:30, and Wednesday, December 12, 5:00
quadcinema.com

In Martin Ritt’s The Long, Hot Summer and Richard Fleischer’s Compulsion, the big, blustery Orson Welles, his sweat practically dripping off the screen, takes center stage though primarily a supporting character. Welles claimed that he hated making The Long, Hot Summer, a fiery Tennessee Williams–like melodrama based on several works by William Faulkner, although clearly inspired by Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Welles plays Will Varner, a wealthy plantation magnate who essentially owns a small southern town. He is grooming his son, Jody (Anthony Franciosa), to take over his empire, but when ambitious drifter and rumored barn burner Ben Quick (Paul Newman, who played Brick in Cat the same year) shows up looking for work, Will decides to set him against Jody, with the winner capturing the spoils, which in the case of Quick might also include Will’s young but already spinsterish daughter, Clara (Joanne Woodward, who married Newman during production). Shot in blazing CinemaScope, the film, which also stars Angela Lansbury as Will’s girlfriend, Lee Remick as Jody’s shopping-loving wife, and Richard Anderson as Clara’s momma’s boy beau, boils over with sexual energy that lives up to the original trailer’s declaration that “nothing — but nothing! — will be withheld!” The Long, Hot Summer earned no Oscar nominations and was not a box-office hit, but Newman became an international superstar by being named Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival, while the film was in competition for the Palme d’Or.

Orson Welles

Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles) meets with clients Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) and Artie Strauss (Bradford Dillman) in Compulsion

The next year, Welles and costars Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman shared the Best Actor award at Cannes for Compulsion, a searing exploration of crime and punishment in the guise of a teen exploitation flick. (Dig that crazy opening credit sequence!) Based on the novel and play by Meyer Levin that fictionalized the Leopold and Loeb case, Compulsion explores the nature of good and evil as it follows wealthy Chicago law school students Artie Strauss (Dillman) and Judd Steiner (Stockwell) on their mad rampage of murder and rape, determined to commit the perfect crime and get away with it because of their superior intellect. But when fellow student Sid Brooks (Martin Milner) finds a pair of glasses that might be the key to discovering who killed little Paulie Kessler, it’s going to take a lot more than understanding Friedrich Nietzsche to keep Artie and Judd from the hangman’s noose. Fleischer, who had a diverse career that ranged from Violent Saturday, The Vikings, Fantastic Voyage, and Doctor Dolittle to The Boston Strangler, Red Sonja, and Amityville 3-D, adds Hitchcockian flourishes to Compulsion, evoking the homoeroticism of Strangers on a Train and Rope (which was also a fictionalized retelling of the Leopold and Loeb story) while having most of the violence occur offscreen. (Fleischer’s cinematic use of the pair of glasses is also a direct reference to the glasses in Strangers on a Train, while Judd’s study of ornithology, highlighted by the stuffed birds in his bedroom, foresees Norman Bates’s taxidermy obsession in Psycho, made a year later.)

Like The Long, Hot Summer, Compulsion boasts a strong — and familiar — supporting cast, including E. G. Marshall (The Bold Ones) as clever DA Harold Horn, Gavin MacLeod (The Love Boat) as one of his assistants, Diane Varsi (Peyton Place) as Sid’s girlfriend, Edward Binns (12 Angry Men) as a crack reporter, and Anderson (Oscar Goldman in The Six Million Dollar Man) as Judd’s older brother. But it is Welles’s presence that takes over the film in its later stages; playing larger-than-life defense attorney Jonathan Wilk, a character based on Clarence Darrow, he enters the film in a grand manner, as Fleischer opens up a space for him to come through a door and dwarf everyone else. Wilk’s eloquent closing argument about capital punishment is one that should be studied by lawyers, actors, directors, and death penalty proponents — even if Welles required the use of a teleprompter to get him through the powerful speech in a single take. Like The Long, Hot Summer, Compulsion received no Oscar nominations and was a box-office failure. When seen back-to-back, the two films work extremely well together, with smoldering story lines, expert cinematography (by Joseph LaShelle in the former, William C. Mellor in the latter), intense acting, and, yes, Orson Welles.

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