Wednesday, May 18, 2011

That's Not Orson Welles

 From the comments for my retrospective on Orson Welles:

"Now you should review every movie in which Orson Welles is a character, played by another actor."
          -Justin Garrett Blum

I've never been one to let down my fans, so let me see if I can oblige with a quick rundown off the various film portrayals I've seen of Orson Welles:

"The Night That Panicked America"
Paul Shenar

This was a pretty good made for TV movie about the broadcast of the War of the Worlds that, well, panicked America. I actually watched this when I was a kid, before I ever saw Citizen Kane and became a fan of Orson Welles, so this was my first real introduction to the man and the impact he had on the world. I remember very little about it, other than that I was mesmerized by the story. I don't remember Shenar's performance all that well, but I do remember his stentorian voice and that he was very passionate portrayal.

Anyway, I don't remember him being bad, but since I had never seen an actual Orson Welles film, I had no way of telling if it was accurate or not.

"Ed Wood"
Vincent D'Onofrio / Maurice LaMarche

This was a wonderful biographical film about the awful filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr., and it contained a small but pivotal cameo appearance by Orson Welles. Ed Wood never actually met Orson Welles in real life (to my knowledge, anyway), but it was a very funny, clever scene between the two directors, both on complete opposite ends of the talent spectrum. Anyway, Welles was played by Vincent D'Onofrio, with the voice supplied by Maurice LaMarche, a well known and very successful voice actor.

This was a very good scene with hilarious dialogue, but it was still strange and awkwardly filmed. D'Onofrio is a dead ringer for Orson Welles, but having his voice dubbed over (by the extremely talented LaMarche) doesn't really work, and gives the scene a very odd disconnect, despite the fact that it is very well done in every other way. Anyway, it's a good scene that works in the film, but I wouldn't want to watch more than just a few minutes of this collaboration.

"Cradle Will Rock"
Angus Macfadyen

Tim Robbins directed this film about art and politics in the 1930s, much of which had to do with the the Welles production of Cradle Will Rock. This is just a brilliant film that I recommend highly, and Angus Macfadyen was pretty good in the role of Welles himself. He was maybe a little too goofy, but he looked just like him and had the right presence and sense of command needed for the over the top Orson Welles. He was ok, but much better was Carey Elwes as John Houseman (who was the production partner of Orson Welles, but most people probably know him better as that old British guy from The Paper Chase.)

Interesting tidbit: Macfadyen also played Peter Lawford in the HBO biopic about the Rat Pack, a role for which I thought he was better suited.

"RKO 281"
Liev Schreiber

Another HBO biopic, this time about the production of Citizen Kane and the epic controversy that followed. This film is very well written and worth seeing for its look into the film production of the times, as well as into the making of the greatest film of all time. However... Liev Schreiber wasn't my favorite Orson Welles. Schreiber is a brilliant actor, but he just never seemed right for the role, and even though he looked the part and gave a great performance, I just never really bought him as Welles. He just didn't have the gravitas or charm of the real Welles.

But still, it's a good film that's well worth checking out, and Schreiber is very good, even if he isn't completely perfect in the role. The rest of the cast is fantastic, however, especially James Cromwell as William Randolph Hearst.

"Me and Orson Welles"
Christian McKay

This isn't a very good film. It's a fairly trite, boring story about a young man who gets a small role in the Orson Welles production of Othello. Zac Efron is the "me" from the title, and while he's not bad at all, he's given very little to do other than to stand there and look handsome. However, Christian McKay's performance was amazing, making him the king of the Orson Welles clones. He's not very handsome, but he still managed to look just like the very striking Welles, but it's his voice and the way he carries himself that really sold it. This guy comes as close as anybody will ever get to portraying Orson Welles, and his performance alone makes the film worth seeing. He was brilliant.

This film is also worth watching if only for the look at the production of Othello, no actual footage of which exists, so this is as close as we'll get to seeing any of it. Check it out, but fast forward through all the scenes without McKay as Orson Welles.


Justin Garrett Blum said...

heh. Awesome post. It was everything I dreamed it could be.

I remember seeing that "Me and Orson Welles" movie in the Redbox a while back. I considered renting it, but I didn't. True story.

I did read that the actor did a great Orson Welles, however, so I would like to see that.

Donald said...

So far as I can see, people only seem to make films featuring the young, good looking Orson Welles from the late 30s to the late 40s. Why has nobody made a film about the big, fat Orson Welles?