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Orson Welles and Film Noir

November 18, 2009

Orson Welles is usually overlooked as one of the great directors of film noir. There may be good reasons for this. Welles was accomplished in so many fields–as an actor, director, radio star, magician and bullfighter– it would be too reductive to classify him as merely a film noir director. However, Welles directed two of the greatest film noir movies, The Lady from Shanghai (1947) and Touch of Evil (1958), and his contribution to the genre should not be forgotten.

Welles divided the critics and was frequently dismissed as an overrated has-been. His contribution to film noir is also divisive, as neither The Lady from Shanghai or Touch or Evil bears any resemblance to the novels they were adapted from. Both movies were also subject to significant studio interference, and Welles was unhappy with their final cuts.

Then, there is Wells’ unfinished projects. Welles started filming adaptations of Don Quixote and The Deep amongst others, but funding and legal problems left his projects unfinished. Welles did finish shooting The Other Side of the Wind, the story of an aging, cantankerous film director (played by John Huston and modelled on Ernest Hemingway), who is trying to shoot one last picture which he intends to fill with scenes of sex and violence. Filming for The Other Side of the Wind was completed but the editing process was not. The project was never finished because of complex legal problems which included Welles’ daughter Beatrice, his partner Oja Kodar and the brother of the Shah of Iran! has an excellent breakdown of the history of the project, and the recent efforts of the director, actor and friend of Welles, Peter Bogdanovich, who acts in the film, to finish and release the film on Welles’ behalf.

Two scenes of The Other Side of the Wind have been released, and are now widely available on the internet. The scene below features the actors Oja Kodar and Bob Random having sex in a car (viewer discretion is advised). Again, I will not try to categorise this film as noir, but the scene certainly has noirish undertones:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul permalink
    February 25, 2014 11:29 am

    They are both excellent movies, though Touch of Evil stays in my thoughts more firmly. I think my favourite of his noir pictures is The Stranger. I love the set-up and the atmosphere that is maintained throughout. Welles played a wonderful villain. There is a certain viciousness to the mood of the thing that I can’t quite pin down but it is in the same area that Hitchcock explored in Shadow of a Doubt. That ugliness hiding under pristine suburban life. It is also a movie that the viewer carries few preconceptions into, as with far more talked about movies from Orson’s career, which does have a habit of aiding enjoyment.

    • February 25, 2014 11:50 am


      Thanks for commenting. I think The Stranger is a very interesting and at times brilliant film as you say. I believe Welles did not like it however, and this perhaps explains why it has not been discussed much. I was a bit disappointed when I first saw it as it lacks the epic scope of his other films, including the noirs. But you’re right the atmosphere is chilling throughout.


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