106 years of Orson Welles


Gwendolynne Royle

Orson Welles is a well-known director and actor in old-Hollywood.

Gwendolynne Royle, Opinions Editor

Orson Welles– a critically acclaimed actor and director, whose performance in movies, such as “Citizen Kane”, have led him to be widely regarded as one of the greatest actors of all time.

In honor of what would have been his 106th birthday, I will be watching five of his films: “Citizen Kane”, “The Stranger”, “The Lady from Shanghai”, “The Third Man” and “The Trial”. All of which he either acted in and directed– in some cases, both– and then I will evaluate if his movies have stood the test of time.

First, I watched what many regard to be the greatest film of all time, “Citizen Kane” which follows the life of a rich newspaper mogul, believed to be modeled after William Randolph Hearst. I went into the movie thinking that it would be boring and slow paced, but I was pleasantly surprised. While I had some qualms with the movie, I found it to be incredibly enjoyable.

In order to talk about “Citizen Kane”, one must acknowledge how important it was to the development of the modern movie. It was the first movie to really experiment with angles, lighting and sets; it was a spectacle that people were– and still are– captivated by.

Obviously, there were dated tropes, melodramatic acting and a lot of the scenes with heavy action that were extremely choreographed. While these flaws would usually make me dislike the movie, I thought that the démodé filming techniques made the movie and its characters endearing.

My final thoughts on “Citizen Kane” is that I, in no way, think that it is the best movie of all time. While I thought it was entertaining, I don’t think that it compares to the cinematic brilliance of some modern movies like “Moonlight” or “1917”. It is a good movie that was great for its time.

If you are interested in “Citizen Kane” I would highly recommend the new award-winning movie “Mank” that follows the story of the man who wrote the screenplay for “Citizen Kane”, Herman J. Mankiewicz.

The second movie I watched was “The Stranger” which was by far my favorite. It had an outrageous plot and I enjoyed every minute of it. The movie follows an escaped Nazi, Franz Kindler, living in a small town in Conneticut under the name Professor Charles Rankin, and the man who is trying to hunt him down.

In my opinion, the movie was near perfect, but probably not in the ways Welles had intended. The acting was beyond campy and the tropes were used in excess. That being said, all of these factors led to this movie being the most ridiculous piece of cinema I have ever seen.

Of course, the movie was extremely dated and I should probably say that it hasn’t stood the test of time, but it was so funny that I would be lying to you.

Between the extreme close-ups, the on-the-nose symbolism, the classic noir acting and the ending, this movie will have you in stitches. I recommend this movie to anyone looking for a good laugh.

The next movie that I watched was “The Lady from Shanghai” and I absolutely adored it. The first half was slow, but once the action began it didn’t stop until the final moments.

My biggest complaint about this movie was one of the actors was unbelievably creepy and I don’t know if that was intentional. I think that Welles was trying to experiment with close-ups in order to establish the nature of the character, but it ended up looking really weird.

My favorite part of the movie was the iconic final scene in the mirror maze. I won’t give anything away, but both the acting and directing were phenomenal.

If I’m being honest, I picked “The Lady from Shanghai” because, based solely on the title, I expected this movie to be extremely dated, but I was proven wrong. Like many of his other movies, there were dated tropes, but the plot was engrossing and is still entertaining to modern audiences.

After that, I watched “The Third Man”. This movie follows an American who goes to Vienna to stay with a friend, but when he arrives, he learns that his friend is dead. Out of all of the films I watched, it felt the most like a stereotypical noir movie.

The reason I consider this movie to be so amazing is the music. The entire movie is underscored by a zither repeating variations of “The Third Man Theme”. The music is entrancing and while the zither and the melody are unexpectedly playful, I think that the music perfectly matches the themes within the movie.

In addition to the sound design, the acting in this movie was top-notch. They are the most truthful performances out of all of the movies, which I was not anticipating. Honestly my only complaint is that there was a chase scene that felt like it went on for 5 years.

The scenery was breathtaking. They did an excellent job making this movie beautiful yet action packed– not that those are mutually exclusive, but one is often sacrificed for the other.

Nothing in this movie stuck out to me as extremely dated, but it was often slow paced. So if you are a fan of old noir movies, then I would totally recommend it, but if you like modern mysteries, I would lend you a copy of “Knives Out” before this one.

Lastly, I watched “The Trial”. Every other Welles movie that I watched was straight-forward and didn’t require much thinking, but I have absolutely no idea what happened in this movie.

Anthony Perkins did a marvelous job embodying a person who is overcome with paranoia, but the plot was too abstract for my liking. Watching this movie made me feel the same way I do when watching most A-24 films: confused and frustrated. That being said, it’s resemblance to modern art films makes me believe that it has stood the test of time.

I believe that the movie was ahead of its time and while it definitely did not appeal to me, it was artful and deep. It’s commentary is such that one could analyze it for years and still find new aspects to dote on.

I have loved watching these Orson Welles films and have been pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed them. I’m not one to idolize “the classics”, but it is interesting to see how far filmmakers have come. In closing, Orson Welles’ movies have definitely become immortalized in my eyes and I would recommend each and every one of the films listed above.