War of the Welles: Seven Actors Who’ve Played Orson

War of the Welles: Seven Actors Who’ve Played Orson (photo)

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Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” is about one man from many perspectives. As a reporter travels the country in search of the meaning of Charles Foster Kane’s last words, he hears stories about the man from wives, co-workers, friends, and guardians, all of whom see Kane’s life differently. In the trailer, Welles describes the many dimensions of his character in the narration: “Kane is a hero, and a scoundrel, a no account and a swell guy. A great lover, a great American citizen and a dirty dog.”

Certainly, Welles believed that one man could encompass all of these dissimilar traits. And in recent years, enough actors have portrayed enough variations of Welles himself to suggest that the acting/directing wunderkind, like Kane, was just as complex an individual. Some films have portrayed him as a hero, others as a scoundrel. Some, like Richard Linklater’s new film “Me and Orson Welles,” show him to be both. Here now, a comparison of the various onscreen Orsons, lovers, citizens, and dirty dogs, all.

11262009_NightThatPanickedAmerica.jpg Paul Shenar in “The Night That Panicked America” (1975)
Directed by Joseph Sargent

The Film is… a TV movie about Welles’ infamous 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio play and the reactions of people who believed the show was real and got swept away in the ensuing panic.

Orson Welles is portrayed as… an aloof genius. Though “The Night That Panicked America” is structured as a behind-the-scenes account of the “War of the Worlds,” it keeps Welles himself at arm’s length. He arrives at the studio shortly before the broadcast and departs after the show in a scrum of reporters. People talk about his directions and desires for the show, but Welles himself has exactly zero lines of dialogue in “The Night” outside of his contributions the as narrator and star of “The War of the Worlds.” He directs the entire play silently with hand gestures, glances, and the occasional devilish grin. The interlocking scenes of terrified listeners provide tangible evidence of Welles’ gifts. But the movie offers no insight into the process as to how he harnessed those talents. It is as if Welles is a magician and the film is his assistant; it knows how he does the tricks, but is sworn never to reveal the secrets.

Paul Shenar is… never going to be mistaken for Orson Welles. He simply looks nothing like the man. But then this is a film about radio, so how Welles looks is ultimately far less important than how he sounds. And Shenar does sound like Welles, though not in the precise way that an impersonator might. Instead, he captures Welles’ tone, the richness of his voice, his confidence and seriousness. You may not be convinced that you are listening to Welles (you’re certainly not convinced that you’re looking at him), but you are convinced that this Welles is capable of directing and starring in maybe the most famous radio broadcast in the medium’s history.

11262009_MaliceinWonderland.jpgEric Purcell in “Malice in Wonderland” (1985)
Directed by Gus Trikonis

The Film is… the story of the rivalry between Hollywood gossip columnists Louella Parsons (Elizabeth Taylor) and Hedda Hopper (Jane Alexander). Welles gets involved when Hopper figures out that Welles’ secretive new movie, “Citizen Kane,” is inspired by the life of William Randolph Hearst, Parsons’ boss.

Orson Welles is portrayed as… Joseph Cotten’s sidekick. “Kane” played an important role in the Parsons/Hopper war, but in the scenes “Malice in Wonderland” devotes to it, Welles plays second fiddle to the film’s version of Joseph Cotten (and the young actor named Tim Robbins who plays him). At a posh Hollywood party, Hopper prods Cotten for information about his rumored extramarital affair with actress Deanna Durbin. Eventually, a fed up Cotten shoves her face first into a plate of deviled eggs while a bemused Welles looks on. In the next scene, Welles and Cotten sit down to watch “Kane” in a screening room and Hopper arrives, technically to watch the movie, but really just to shake Cotten’s hand for having the moxie to do what so many others have wanted to.

Eric Purcell is… playing the sort of rushed celebrity cameo present in most Hollywood biopics that requires overly expository dialogue to explain who he is and what he’s up to. Hence, he’s first spied next to Hopper as she says “Come on Orson, spill the beans! This “Citizen Kane” caper is about William Randolph Hearst, isn’t it?” Then again, it’s not like we’d recognize Purcell as Welles just from his appearance; with his hideous, crooked bowtie, bad posture, and floppy haircut, he looks like a caricature of Welles drawn by someone who didn’t like him. If Louella Parsons had done this good of a job making Welles look bad after Hearst ordered her to bury “Kane,” the film might never have gotten released.

11262009_HeavenlyCreatures3.jpgJean Guérin in “Heavenly Creatures” (1994)
Directed by Peter Jackson

The Film is… an extremely stylish and visually imaginative version of a real-life murder committed by two New Zealand teenagers. Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet (Kate Winslet) bond over their mutual loneliness and quickly grow inseparable. The pair’s favorite activity is to construct elaborate fantasies that director Peter Jackson brings to life within the film, one of which involves Orson Welles and his performance in Carol Reed’s “The Third Man.”

Orson Welles is portrayed as… “the most hideous man alive,” according to Juliet. During a late night bonding session, she shares with Pauline her thoughts on the afterlife, a place she calls “the fourth world” that is populated by all her favorite pop culture crushes: James Mason and Mario Lanza, but not Orson Welles, because he’s so gosh darn ugly. Later, the girls watch “The Third Man” at the local movie theater, where Pauline remarks (in words Jackson and co-writer Fran Walsh took right from the real girl’s diary), “He was appalling! I had never in my life seen anything in the same category of hideousness!” (One shudders to think what she would have written if they’d seen “Touch of Evil” instead.) When the girls leave the theater, their fantasy life kicks in and Welles, still in black-and-white, appears before them and silently chases them through the streets and dark alleys of their town. He follows them back home, where his shadow – or perhaps, since we’re talking about Welles, The Shadow – makes several clever appearances. The walls between fantasy and reality break down; Pauline and Juliet escape Welles’ clutches, the two begin to kiss on a bed, then Pauline suddenly transforms into Welles and begins to make love to Juliet. Eventually, reality is restored, as the two friends, lying together in a tub, finally resolve to kill Pauline’s mother. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, indeed.

Jean Guérin is… really not that hideous. I think the girls are being a bit unfair.

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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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