Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Five Minutes, Mr. Welles"

"What is your favorite film of all time?" (Spoilers ahead)

Not the easiest question to answer. When I'm asked, an immediate list pops up in my head and from Vertigo to Gone with the Wind and The Godfather. However, I've found that when asked that question there is one particular film that always pops into my head: Carol Reed's 1949 The Third Man starring Joseph Cotten. A certain Mr. Orson Welles took part in the film, providing the unique character called Harry Lime, who makes one of the most famous entrances in film history. Cotten, who is drunk, is calling out to an unseen figure in a dark doorway after midnight in Cold War Vienna, only to have a disgruntled neighbor throw open the shutters revealing his best friend, who was supposed to be dead, standing there with a casual smirk on his face. All underscored by Anton Karas' famed zither.

I love the film; from beginning to end. Whenever it's on I find myself stopping what I'm doing to watch it, and even upgraded from the first Criterion DVD release to their second more comprehensive 2-disc edition. It's doubtful that Joseph Cotten was ever better (okay, Shadow of a Doubt perhaps...) as the rather innocent Holly Martins, a hack alcoholic writer who arrives in Vienna to join his best friend, only to discover he had died. Alida Valli played the woman in both their lives. Trevor Howard is the droll British MP officer who is out for the truth about Lime. The way the film is staged and shot, with Robert Krasker's brilliant Oscar-winning cinematography, combined with the story and characters always manages to strike the right chord with me. The film was co-produced by David O. Selznick and British-based Alexander Korda, giving the film the unique distinction of being on both the AFI and BFI's top 100 movies list, clocking in at #1 on the latter.

Welles was notoriously difficult on the set, often evading crew members and avoiding shooting on his own whims. When he refused to film in the Vienna sewers, only working in soundstages in London. Numerous doubles were used in location long shots, including the assistant director. In a scene where his hands were needed for an important show involving a sewer grate, Welles was nowhere to be found and director Reed's hands were used instead. However, Welles greatest contribution to the entire film was in a scene toward the climax of the film on a ferris wheel for which he wrote his famous "cuckoo clock" monologue.

Actor Vincent D'Onofrio first played Orson Welles in a brief cameo appearance in Tim Burton's biopic Ed Wood, though his voiced was dubbed by another actor. The actor later wrote and starred in this short film called Five Minutes, Mr. Welles, a tongue-in-cheek film noir homage to the famed auteur relayed the (fictionalized) moments leading up to the filming of his most famous scene in The Third Man. It unfolds rather like a small two person one-act play, with Janine Theriault playing his personal assistant. Have a look:

1 comment:

Micheal said...

They must have used a different actor to voice his cameo in Ed Wood. Any idea what other movies sport a soundtrack of complete zitherness?