What can you say about the man who convinced American's that the planet Mars was attacking New Jersey on Halloween Night, October 31, 1938, and then created "Charles Foster Kane"? This is a look at five of roles that are part of a four-year period in the acting life of George Orson Welles.
MACBETH premiered in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 7, 1948
Back in 1939, "Universal Pictures" apparently filmed the first version of William Shakespeare's "Richard III" entitled the "Tower of London". This historical drama starred Basil Rathbone as "Richard III" and Boris Karloff as his club-footed executioner, but there was hardly a word of Shakespeare to be heard. In 1962, Roger Corman remade "Tower of London" with Vincent Price, who had played the "Duke of Clarence" in 1939, as "Richard III". The film was considered historical drama and horror, perhaps because Vincent Price was in his Edgar Allan Poe period. In 1955, Laurence Olivier made his "Richard III". Keeping with 1939's changing of the original, Olivier added selections from Shakespeare's "Henry VI, Part 3" to his screenplay and reworked some of the dialogue, while shortening the original play.
In 1947, Orson Welles approached Alexander Korda, of the "Korda Brothers", about making a film version of "Othello", but was unable to get support for the project. At the same time, Laurence Olivier was putting together his "Hamlet".
Ever the showman, and perhaps a little bit of the ham-actor, Orson Welles turned to Shakespeare's "The Tragedy of Macbeth" and approached Herbert Yates, owner of "Republic Pictures".
Co-producer Orson Welles would direct the motion picture and adapt Shakespeare's play into the screenplay he had envisioned upon the motion picture screen. The next step was to cast the film and Welles, of course, had himself in the title role.
Orson Welles wanted Vivian Leigh, but she was married to Laurence Olivier and Welles figured Olivier would be against his wife taking the role for a competitor. So, "Lady Macbeth" was offered to Tallulah Bankhead, Alfred Hitchcock's 1944 "Lifeboat" and co-directors Otto Preminger and Ernst Lubitsch's 1945 comedy "A Royal Scandal", but Bankhead outright turned the role down. Next, he requested Anne Baxter, then he tried for Mercedes McCambridge, and after that his "Mercury Theatre" cast member Agnes Moorehead, but all had previous commitments.
In the end Orson Welles cast another member of the "Mercury Theatre", Jeanette Nolan, in her first on-screen appearance as "Lady Macbeth".
As was to be expected, Orson Welles changed William Shakespeare and one change was to expand the scenes of the "Three Witches". His purpose was to increase their significance to the downfall of the Scottish King. In casting the witches, he also used the actresses in other roles, Peggy Webber was both "Lady Macduff" and a "Witch", Lurene Tuttle was both a "Gentlewoman" and a "Witch", and Brainerd Duffield was both the "First Murderer" and a "Witch".
The clay statue of "Macbeth" adds a supernatural tone to Welles' interpretation of Shakespeare. "The Witches" place an un-Shakespearian spell upon the statue and whatever happens to it, seems to happen to "Macbeth". At the picture's climax the statue seems to collapse into a heap of clay and "Macbeth" is beheaded!
the main point of that production is the struggle between the old and new religions. I saw the witches as representatives of a Druidial pagan religion suppressed by Christianity – itself a new arrival.
Orson Welles moves his setting backwards from William Shakespeare's, to the dawn of Christianity when it was also pagan in nature.
Orson Welles played with Shakespeare's character of "Lady Macbeth" in two critical scenes. The first, is just a very subtle insinuation that she has fatally stabbed "King Duncan", played by Erskine Sanford, prior to "Macbeth's" army's attack on his.
Mine should have been sent back, because I looked like the Statue of Liberty in it,
As for the films sets, luckily the film is set in Scotland with the fog on the moors, because they were all "B" Roy Rodgers cowboy movie sets.
Orson Welles shot his film with the actors speaking with a Scottish Brogue to sound authentic. "Republic Pictures" had their voices redubbed with the actors speaking in their normal voices. Along with the studio cutting the film by 20-minutes, that included the tracking shot, to an 88-minute running time.
Next, it was set to be shown at the "Venice Italy Film Festival", but the studio pulled it. The film's competition was Laurence Olivier's 1948 version of William Shakespeare's "Hamlet".
In 1980 the "UCLA Film and Television Archive" and the "Folger Shakespeare Library" restored "Macbeth" to its original 107-minute version with the original soundtrack.
Orson Welles gave a 1953 lecture at the "Edinburgh Fringe Festival"
My purpose in making Macbeth was not to make a great film – and this is unusual, because I think that every film director, even when he is making nonsense, should have as his purpose the making of a great film. I thought I was making what might be a good film, and what, if the 23-day day shoot schedule came off, might encourage other filmmakers to tackle difficult subjects at greater speed. Unfortunately, not one critic in any part of the world chose to compliment me on the speed. They thought it was a scandal that it should only take 23 days. Of course, they were right, but I could not write to every one of them and explain that no one would give me any money for a further day's shooting . . . However, I am not ashamed of the limitations of the picture.
At the time of the release of Orson Welles' "Macbeth" the film critics attacked him for making changes to William Shakespeare's play. Purists believed you just don't touch "The Bard of Avon's" work. Seven years later, the same critics panned Laurence Olivier's "Richard III", and he ended his career of directing Shakespeare on the motion picture screen.
Yet, two-years after Olivier's "Richard III", while the film critics and historians were still openly condemning Orson Welles for the sin of changing Shakespeare. Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, released 1957's "Kumpnosu-jo (Spider Web Castle)" aka: "Throne of Blood", moving William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" from Scotland to feudal Japan, and Kurosawa received high praise from those same critics. My article, "William Shakespeare By Akira Kurosawa: Kurosawa By America and Italy", will be found at:
The uncredited director on the picture was Orson Welles.
Richard Schayer wrote additional dialogue and some scenes. Schayer wrote director Todd Browning and actor Lon Chaney's 1929 "Where East is East", and Browning's 1936 "The Devil-Doll" starring Lionel Barrymore and Maureen O'Sulivan. For "Universal Studios" Schayer wrote the screenplays for 1931's "Frankenstein", and 1932's "The Mummy".
In a "New York Times" interview with Welles, on April 17, 1949, the actor said that Edward Small acted:
very cleverly with the role of Cagliostro. He waited 'til I had reread the Dumas novels and become so 'hypnotized' by the scoundrel that I felt I had to play him. Then Small announced casually, 'Gregory Ratoff' is going to direct'. That cinched it. Gregory is a great friend, and more fun to work with than anybody I know.
Nancy Guild portrayed the dual roles of "Marie Antoinette" and "Lorenza". Between 1946 and 1971 the actress only appeared 15 times on-screen. Before this picture she was in 1948's "Give My Regards to Broadway" co-starring with Dan Dailey. She followed this film with 1951's "Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man".
Frank Latimore portrayed "Gilbert de Rezel". Latimore's latest motion picture was James Cagney's 1946 "13 Rue Madeleine", and he followed this picture with the first of several Italian motion pictures 1949's "Yvonne la Nuit".
Buried at 10th billing is actor Raymond Burr portraying Alexander Dumas Jr., who became a playwright and novelist.
The Basic Screenplay
Now an adult, "Balsamo" learns the secrets of hypnotism known as mesmerizing from "Dr. Mesmer", played by Charles Goldner. "Mesmer" tells him to use his powers to heal the sick, but now calling himself "Count Cagliostro", "Balsamo" has other plans.
"Cagliostro" finds the two lovers, mesmerizes "Lorenza" and under his hypnosis she marries him.
The screenplay implies that it was "Cagliostro's" trial and the necklace that led to the start of the "French Revolution".
The real "Alessandro Cagliostro" was arrested in Rome on December 27, 1789, for attempting to set-up a Masonic Lodge in the Catholic capital. He died in prison on August 25, 1795.
Speaking of Rome and Italy was Orson Welles' next motion picture.
The screenplay was based upon the 1949 best-selling novel of the same name by Samuel Shellabarger. Who had written the 1947 best-selling novel that Henry King and Tyrone Power turned into the motion picture with that novel's title, 1947's "Captain from Castile".
Shellabarger's novel is based upon a fictional episode in the life of Cesare Borgia, brother of Lucrezia, an Italian Cardinal, a mercenary leader of Spanish descent, and the illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI and a member of the "House of Borgia".
The "Catholic League of Decency", representing the Catholic Church, made their objections known with the writing of the original screenplay that having "Pope Alexander VI", a major character in the novel, as a character in the motion picture was off-limits. As a result, he isn't in the screenplay and no mention of the parents of either Cesare, or his sister, Lucrezia Borgia is mentioned. Additionally, the screenplay never mentions religion, or the Catholic church, thereby, eliminating any historical connection of Cesare Borgia to the church, or being a Cardinal himself.
Pleased at the way "Andrea" handles himself, he is chosen by "Cesare" for an important "intrigue".
In truth, "Cesare Borgia" wants to rule Italy, and this is just one cog in his plan by gaining control of Central Italy through the marriage. However, not being chosen for this mission turns a now jealous "Don Esteban Ramirez", played by the uncredited Leslie Bradley, into an enemy of "Orsini".
Shortly afterwards, an assassin, "Mario Belli", played by Everett Sloane, attempts to kill "Andrea Orsini", but "Orsini" over powers him and spares the man's life. After he learns that it was the "Duke Ercole d'Este" that paid for the assassination attempt. "Andrea" hires the assassin and "Belli" becomes part of his entourage.
"Andrea Orsini" is appointed ambassador to Citta del Monte, with orders to help the prince conquer the mountain top city by spring. The means suggested is the seduction of "Camilla di Baglione" the wife of "Count Verano", the woman "Andrea" met in Venice. Not completely trusting his ambassador, "Cesare Borgia" now hires "Belli" as his spy to make sure "Orsini" doesn't waiver from his new mission.
"Camilla" is leery of "Orsini", but grows to admire "Andrea's" artistic soul as he paints her portrait for the court.
"Andrea Orsini" has come to admire the old count and his love of his people as compared to "The Prince of Foxes", "Cesare Borgia", but this is interrupted by the arrival of "Don Esteban". The Don brings an order from "Borgia" demanding that "Count Marc Antonio Verano" let the Prince's troops pass through his land and supply them with food and other equipment. "Count Verano" refuses "Don Esteban's" demand, states "his people" come before "Cesare Borgia", "Andrea Orsini" switches sides from "Borgia" to "Verano", but "Belli", who calls himself "a born traitor", will stay with "Cesare Borgia's".
The count reveals to "Andrea" that he only married "Camilla", after her father died, to protect her and has treated his wife as his daughter. "Andrea Orsini" now knows his love of "Camilla Verona" would have the approval of the count under different circumstances.
The siege has reached the point of exhaustion for "Camilla's" people and "Don Esteban" offers very generous peace terms, but with one condition, the surrender of "Andrea Orsini", the man "Camilla" now fully loves. She tells the Don she'll not accept his terms. "Orsini" responds that he will give himself up, IF the terms of surrender are put in writing.
Now that Citta de Monte is his, "Cesare Borgia" has a huge triumphal dinner party with "Camilla Verona" having to sit by his side. "Borgia" has the tortured "Orsini" brought before him and "Camilla" and exposes "Andrea" as the peasant he is by having his mother brought in to confirm this fact.
"Cesare Borgia" passes judgement on "Andrea Zoppo", death by starvation! However, "Mario Belli", now a Lieutenant in "Borgia's" army steps forward, protests the punishment, and asks that he be permitted to gouge out "Andrea's" eyes in front of all those assembled at the dinner and make "Orsini" a blind beggar. This is granted by the delighted "Cesare Borgia" and "Andrea's" mother escorts her blind son home. next, "The Prince of Foxes" imprisons "Camilla" in the dungeons as punishment for defying his rule.
The obvious twist to the story is that "Belli" had remained loyal to "Orsini" this entire time and the two planned the fake gouging of his eyes. Now they have two plans to carry out, the rescue of "Camilla", and helping her people retake their city.
The signal for the citizen uprising is accidently given before "Andrea" and "Camilla" can escape the castle. "Don Esteban" appears and meets "Andrea Zoppo" in single combat, and dies in it. However, another officer in "Borgia's" army appears and as "Andrea" stumbles over "Esteban's" body, "Balgioni", the role or the actor's name does not appear on the official cast listing, has a chance of killing him, but he is weary of all the killing and admires "Andrea Zoppo" and lets the two go on.
The real "Cesare Borgia" met his death on a battle field on March 11, 1507. because he lost the support of the Papacy. Which could not be mentioned in this motion picture's screenplay, because of the agreement with the "Catholic League of Decency", even though it's in the original novel.
This motion picture is based upon a 1945 bestselling novel by historical novelist Thomas B. Costain. Costain mixed historical figures with his fictional ones. His 1951 biblical novel "The Silver Chalice" was about the chalice made to hold the cup used by Jesus Christ at the last supper. Costain's 1959 novel "The Darkness and the Dawn" was about Attila the Hun.
The Mongol general "Баян (Bayan of the Barrin)" known to Marco Polo as "Bayan of the Hundred Eyes", and the Chinese as "Boyan", was Kublai Khan's commander of the Mongol Army against the "Song Dynasty", from 1274 to 1276, that ended with the Khan's conquest of Southern China.
Cecile Aubry portrayed "Maryam". The French actress had just been seen in the 1949 French crime film "Manon" and followed this United States and United Kingdom co-production with a French comedy fantasy drama, 1951's "Barbe-Bleue".
Jack Hawkins portrayed "Tristram Griffen". Hawkins had just co-starred with Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Glynis Johns in 1950's "The Great Manhunt". He would follow this motion picture with another adventure film, 1951's "Fortune in Diamonds".
Michael Rennie portrayed "King Edward". Rennie was two motion pictures away from playing "Klaatu" in director Robert Wise's classic anti-atomic bomb science fiction allegory, 1951's original "The Day the Earth Stood Still".
Herbert Lom portrayed "Anthemus". Lom had also been in Jack Hawkins 1950 "The Great Manhunt" and followed this picture with 1950's "Cage of Gold" starring Jean Simmons and David Farrar. I could not locate a photo of the actor for this article.
Also, you will find 17-years old actor Robert Blake as "Mahmoud", below.
The Basic Screenplay:
"Walter of Gurnie" and his archer friend, "Tristram Griffen" set out to make their fortunes in Cathay (China) at the time of the "Pax Mongolica (Mongol Peace)" which historically united the social, economic and cultures of the vast country's peoples. Although, as I said above, it was "Bayan's" orders from "Kublai Khan" to conquer the south first to bring them under the "Pax Mongolica".
"Walter" and "Tristram" join a caravan of gifts for "Kublai Khan" sent from the merchant "Anthemus".
The two Englishmen start to learn the ways of the Mongol's and their games.
"Bayan" now sends "Walter of Gurnie" on an important mission to the "Empress of Southern Cathay", played by Madame Phang.
When "Walter" arrives and sees the Empress, she advises him that he is now a "guest" and will remain such for the rest of his life. He is imprisoned and finds both "The Black Rose" and "Tristram" also in the cell.
That confused ending starts with the "Walter", "Maryam" and "Tristram" attempting an escape, but "Tristram" dies in it. Cut to the shore as the small boat "Maryam" is waiting for "Walter" in drifts away, and he cannot get to her. "Walter" returns to England where Norman "King Edward" welcomes him back, pardons his past deeds, appreciates his scholarly knowledge of Cathay's culture and, more to the point, how to make gun powder. "Walter of Gurnie" is knighted as two men from "Bayan" arrive bringing "The Black Rose" to "Walter", and a happy ending.
For his final film of the period, Orson Welles returned to William Shakespeare.
The motion picture was directed by Orson Welles and he was one of two screenplay writers on the production, but the only one that received credit. The other was French writer, Jean Sacha, who multitasked in the French cinema as a film editor, director, and screenplay writer between 1938 and 1971.
Although Shakespeare's play is thought to be based upon Giovanni Battista Giraldi's 1565 "Un Capitano Moro (The Moorish Captain)". Many believe Shakespeare used the Moroccan ambassador to the court of "Queen Elizabeth I", Abd al-Wahid bin Masoud bin Muhammad al-Annuri as his model.
Robert Coote portrayed "Roderigo". 1951 was a good year for the British character actor. Prior to this motion picture he was first seen in "Soldiers Three", the Stewart Granger, Walter Pidgeon, and David Niven remake of "Gunga Din". Next he was in the Sir Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway classic British comedy "The Lavender Hill Mob", and right before this feature it was "The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel" starring James Mason.
Michael Laurence portrayed "Cassio". This was Irish actor Laurence's third motion picture of a five-motion picture career.
Like Welles' 1949 "Macbeth", the basic story is William Shakespeare's:
"Othello" will be manipulated by his ensign, "Iago", into thinking his new wife, "Desdemona", is having an affair with his lieutenant, "Cassio", and this will lead to Shakespeare's tragic ending with Othello killing his wife.
The problem for Orson Welles was that the normal stage running time of the play was around three-hours. He would cut the play's length, rearranged some scenes, and change some dialogue, and end with the original film cut of 91-minutes. Which was the one released in Italy, but there would be two other cuts of the film. A slightly different version was entered in the "Cannes France Film Festival" on May 10, 1952, and won the "Grand Prix du Festival International du Film", now called, the "Palme d'Or".
A third version, with a different running time, finally came to the United States on September 12, 1955.
Then there was the availability of the actors and that impacted the main role of "Desdemona". Initially, Welles was in an affair with Italian actress Lea Padovani and wanted her opposite him, but she spoke very little English.
Later, Betsy Blair would be nominated for 1955's "Best Supporting Actress" opposite Ernest Borgnine in "Marty", and run afoul of the "House Committee on Un-American Activities" for her views on Marxism.
This all led to Welles casting Suzanne Cloutier as "Desdemona".