There are very few equivalents to compare to the genius of an Orson Welles. But where in the world do you go, after directing the “greatest film ever made”, your very first time out, in 1941, released when you were just 25-years-old! In Welles’s case, after infuriating newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, upon whom “Citizen Kane” is loosely based, you spiral into mayhem and inconsistency. His 1942 follow-up, though considered brilliant, was viciously butchered by the studio the following year–up to 40 minutes was chopped out, and lost. 1946’s “The Stranger” was a hit, but decidedly mainstream, while 1947’s “The Lady from Shanghai” took years to be fully appreciated. His 1948 “Macbeth” was shot on the leftover sets from westerns, and his 1952 Palme d’Or winner “Othello”, notoriously took four years to complete. 1955’s “Mr. Arkadin” has 3 different cuts available for home viewing, and even the marvelous “Touch of Evil”, from 1958, was heavily edited–and starred Charlton Heston as a Mexican. Welles once called the striking “The Trial”, from 1962, his personal favorite of his own work. Until his next release that is, with what is essentially his last “official” feature, arriving in 1966.
“Chimes at Midnight”, aka “Falstaff”, is finally getting a Blu-ray release on August 30th after being restored for The Criterion Collection. Held back over rights disputes for years, this is certainly news that is worth rejoicing over. I’ve never seen it myself, but it’s reputation has grown steadily over the years, and when asked in 1982, Mr. Welles responded, “It’s my favorite picture, yes”. The legendary Peter Bogdonavich considers it Welles’s finest work, and Kenneth Branagh has admitted being inspired by its battle scenes, when directing his 1989 “Henry V” (Welles, of course, includes text from five Shakespeare plays in the script for “Chimes at Midnight”). This exciting release will have a slew of features, with commentary from renowned Welles scholars like James Naremore, Simon Callow, and his daughter Beatrice Welles. The made-for-television “The Immortal Story” (being released by Criterion on the same day) came in 1968–but it’s a pretty paltry feature (released that way in certain markets) at 58 minutes. Plus, the documentaries “F for Fake” and “Filming Othello” arrived in 1974 and 1978, respectively. But “Chimes at Midnight” stands as his 10th, and final, dramatic feature length film. And I intend to give you my opinion on it right here, soon after I experience it, in the waning days of summer.