In this post, is a list of Orson Welles’ films ranked by me – for whatever it’s worth… I watched the films in chronological order and wrote my brief thoughts immediately after watching them.
Oh, and spoiler alert.
My Top 3:
1. Touch of Evil (1958) – Swallow the fact that Charlton Heston plays a Mexican cop that can barely speak Spanish and you have what I believe to be Orson Welles’ best film. I wrestled a while with the fact of ranking this above Citizen Kane due to obvious reasons but, after all, this is my ranking – not AFI’s. What really puts this one over the top starts with, of course, the stunning 3 minute opening shot. Additionally, the story was so complex and yet handled so elegantly. Not to mention the fantastic cast. With the shining star being none other than the director himself, Welles brings so much life and ferocity to an intensely complicated character – and the makeup was excellent as well. It befuddles me how AFI doesn’t even have this in their top 100.
2. Citizen Kane (1941) – Welles’ first film that constantly battles Hitchcock’s Vertigo for AFI’s #1 film of all time every year – and usually wins. It was extremely difficult for this not to be number one right off the bat. Amazing film all around. Welles broke every rule of storytelling known to Hollywood at the time and succeeded tremendously on every facet. The entire story – beginning, middle and end – is told to you from the start. The use of intricately stitched flashbacks through the eyes of many different characters had to have been jarring for early moviegoers. It amazes me how he burst on to the scene in such a game changing manner – although they didn’t think so at the time.
3. The Lady of Shanghai (1947) – Like almost every Welles film, the story behind it is just as good and intriguing as the film itself. I really enjoy a good film noir and this definitely falls into that category. It’s very interesting to see Welles act alongside his wife at the time and beauty icon, Rita Hayworth who plays the quintessential femme fatale. Between Welles, Hayworth and Everett Sloane, there are some really magnificent acting moments that truly ground this film. My absolute favorite part, that cannot go unmentioned, is the terrifically cinematic ending in a mirror maze shootout.
4. The Immortal Story (1968) – This one is a huge dark horse. It’s the second film of Welles’ that is only an hour long and I would go as far as to say it’s the most beautiful story he’s ever told. I’ll also dare to say that this has some of the most gorgeous shots I’ve ever seen in any of his films. There, I said it. I’m really glad he was forced into doing this in color – I disagree with him BIG TIME on the color vs B&W argument. The sole reason that this isn’t higher up is because it felt like an injustice to those above, that were large and magnificent feats. But make no mistake, this is some of his best work.
5. Mr. Arkadin (1955) – I went for what I felt was the obvious choice in watching the 2006 “comprehensive cut” of this film. This film drew inspiration from a myriad of places and the best part is you can rarely feel it; the style is so centered and focused. Filmed on location across the globe, this film could have easily been an absolute triumph had things not gone tits up in post. Which leads me to the sole reason that this isn’t in my top 3. Between the awkward voice dubbing and some really weird jump cuts, it’s a shame Welles never got to see it through completion. I just really wish I could see what his complete vision was with this project.
6. The Stranger (1946) – Welles’ first attempt at making a bonafide box office success features two huge stars in Edward G Robinson and Loretta Young. The story is compelling and it is told brilliantly. The editions, made by Welles, of a fantastic background character in store-clerk, Mr. Potter, ties it together wonderfully. It was the first film to ever show real footage of Holocaust aftermath. Still chilling today, I can only imagine the initial reactions in the ‘46 theaters.
7. F is for Fake (1974) – Definitely the weirdest thing Welles ever made, this is a fantastic documentary about legendary art forger, Elmyra De Hory, bookended by a weird narrative about his real life mistress, Oja Kodar. Welles career finalizes with this signature artistic semi-documentary and it holds significant weight in his filmography in my opinion. This is a great, creative way to present the documentary genre and should be essential viewing to anyone interested in that kind of film.
8. Chimes at Midnight (1965) – Despite my usual indifference towards Shakespearean language, the insane creativity displayed here is amazing. It most definitely ousts his other Shakespearean work by a mile and then some. Hard to place definitively but most definitely phenomenal. The creativity between the camera work, the sets, the costumes (which he did himself) combined with great acting makes this one shine. Also made me realize that Welles would have made a great Santa Claus.
9. Journey into Fear (1943) – A film that was only released on VHS years ago, I had to watch this one through a really crappy link. The length of a Game of Thrones episode, this one had a lot of oddities. For one, Welles played a Turkish head of police with an accent I can’t imagine being accurate – although I wouldn’t really know. The story can get convoluted but it’s told very well and it ties together with a pretty cool shootout on a rainy window ledge.
10. Othello (1951) – What can definitely be described as one of Welles’ biggest passion projects, Othello takes its various settings all across the globe over a, frequently interrupted, three year shoot. Both of Welles’ takes on Shakespeare are loaded with creative liberties and really gorgeous cinematography so it’s hard to place. However, I feel it beats out Macbeth by just a tad with Welles topping his extensive creativity and unique style. Also, is Welles in blackface!?
11. Macbeth (1948) – One of the earliest Shakespeare works to be brought to the big screen, Welles’ style is all over this one. Between the insane sets and stellar long takes, it’s clear he had to take lots of creative liberty with the original script. I would argue that this is some of Welles best acting alongside Jeanette Nolan as his counterpart. However, Shakespeare’s apparent magnificent use of words never fails to get wasted on an unappreciative sack like me – so it falls low on the list.
12. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) – Sometimes you can tell when something just wasn’t right. In Citizen Kane’s follow up film, the story is there but the style is messy. In the film with probably the most long takes I’ve ever seen, these masterful shots are often crudely interrupted and escaped from quickly. Also, Welles’ intended ending would have worked for the story much better than what made the final cut. Welles probably suplexed that editor after the tireless feud with RKO Pictures.
13. The Trial (1962) – If I’m being honest, I had no real idea where to place this one. This film was based on Franz Kafka’s novel of the same name and boy did it live up to the author’s style. This film was ridiculously surreal and completely outrageous in every aspect. It leaves you with no choice but to attempt to read deeply into it. Best parts about it were the fantastic sets, crazily creative camera angles and the many long takes – a constant in Welles’ films.
Check out my 5-Star reviews and more on my “letterboxd” profile!
On to Wes Anderson…