It has been a while since I watched some Orson Welles.
And hey, the voices are in sync, so we’re off to an unusually good start.

“Give me the spare men and spare me the great ones.”

While King Gielgud is off ruling the country, his son Prince Hal fucks around, drinking and robbing and having fun with his low-life friends including Falstaff, an overweight self-obsessed clown played by Welles. Falstaff was apparently a running secondary character in three overlong Shakespeare plays, here stitched together to make him the main player, the royalty drama becoming the background story. A good Welles movie, with fun editing, grotesque close-ups and nice compositions.

I’m not too good with the timelines of English kings, but this is the early 1400’s, Henry IV (Gielgud) having recently killed Richard II. Of course the true heir Mortimer has been locked up somewhere else, as is always the case (at least in Shakespeare), and his friends plot the current king’s overthrow. Hal returns to his dad the king and joins in a victorious fight against the Mortimerists (not their real name), personally killing their leader, which cowardly braggart Falstaff attempts to take credit for.

Falstaff thinks this is all in fun, that his group will be friends forever, and when Henry dies and Hal becomes King Henry V, Falstaff is overjoyed, thinking he’ll become rich beyond belief, but instead is banished from the court by the newly serious Hal, returning home to die (offscreen) of grief. I was amazed that Welles wouldn’t give himself a big, talky death scene, but I suppose he wasn’t adding new dialogue to the Shakespeare.

King Gielgud:

King Falstaff:

King Hal:

Ebert says the battle scene is “edited quickly, to give a sense of confusion and violence — providing an ironic backdrop for the frightened Falstaff himself, running from tree to tree to hide from the combatants” in the comically large and round armor Welles has made for himself. Being a Shakespeare drama about kings and thieves, there’s not much screen time for women, but Margaret Rutherford (Blithe Spirit) runs the pub/inn and Jeanne Moreau (just after Diary of a Chambermaid) plays a friend/prostitute. This played at Cannes alongside Dr. Zhivago, The Nun, The Round-Up and Seconds.

W. Johnson in Film Quarterly:

The vastness of the film’s spaces serve to deepen the sense of nostalgia. The tavern, for example, is enlarged beyond probability in much the same way that a childhood haunt is enlarged in one’s memory: this is how Falstaff, the perpetual child, would remember it. Similarly, the wide horizons of the film’s outdoor scenes (actually shot in Spain) evoke the spacious, innocent Olde Englande that Falstaff imagined he lived in. Naturalistic settings would have called attention to the costumes, the archaic language, the theatrical structure of the scenes, everything except what’s really important – the characters and their changing world. Welles’s exaggerations give the film its human perspective.

As portrayed by Shakespeare, Falstaff is not only lazy, gluttonous, cowardly, lecherous, dishonest and the rest but also a great innocent. He is devoid of malice or calculation; no matter what is done to him, he remains open and trusting. He lives in a dream world where there are no politicians or policemen or pedagogues; and when Hal destroys that world by rejecting him, he does not adjust to reality but dies.


The Fountain of Youth (1958)

Welles himself calls it “a wacky little romance” in his intro, which seems both accurate and too humble. It’s a jokey little story with a predictable twist ending, but the way its told and shown is thrilling.

Glamorous actress Joi Lansing marries scientist Dan Tobin “the gland man,” but leaves him for tennis champ Rick Jason. The gland man has his revenge, claims to have discovered a 200-year youth serum, gives them a single dose and lets them fight over it.

Orson interrupts the action and talks over it, blocking the picture with his body and voicing the characters himself. Instead of editing he’ll use sudden lighting changes. It’s all a charming trick.

Rosenbaum calls it the only completed film besides Citizen Kane “over which Welles had final and complete artistic control” which “even begin to qualify as Hollywood products,” as opposed to his independent works.

Since so little has been said about this cool little movie, I’m going to overquote from an article in his book on Welles:

In The Fountain of Youth, Welles’s first television pilot – an adaptation of John Collier’s short story Youth From Vienna that begins as an essay on the subject of narcissism – the dialectic is given a new pattern. For once, the narrating Welles persona is intermittently visible as well as audible; he begins the show, in effect, as a slide show lecturer, and reappears periodically to remind us of his privileged position. … By speaking for the characters as well as about them – literally lip-synching Joi Lansing, Dan Tobin, and Rick Jason, his three stars, at certain junctures to mock their roles as puppets – his moral fallibility (that is to say, his narcissism) becomes identified with theirs, and the implicit nastiness of Welles’s amused, glacial detachment consciously boomerangs.


Too Much Johnson (1938)

JR: “The only copy of the film was lost in a fire .. in August 1970.”

Apparently not! I watched Scott Simmon’s new 34-minute edit. Three sections, to be screened between acts at a Mercury Theater play. Mostly they are goofy chase scenes. In the first (and longest), mustache villain Edgar Barrier (Journey Into Fear, Macbeth) chases Joseph Cotten (The Third Man / Ambersons / Kane star) across city rooftops over a girl. In the second, they board a ship bound for Cuba, continuing the chase, and in the third they’re both chased around the island by Howard Smith. It probably would’ve worked better in context.

Simmon:

It feels to me as if Welles and the Mercury theater were working toward some reenactment of a history of American film up to that point: Silent film comedy interspersed with 1930s screwball stage dialogue. In any case, the revised play, in its tightest last revision, has a spirit far from the Gillette original — with rapid-fire exchanges in place of relatively longer speeches.

I. The Battles begins with Jeanne having had her angel visitations already, trying to convince local government to take her to the king, and halfway through the film gets to the battles she led against the English. II. The Prisons is half battles (which is good; we didn’t get enough battles in part 1) and half British prisons (with hardly any of the trial/execution scenes that Dreyer would focus on). All set 1429-1431, except for an odd intro in 1455, with Jeanne’s aged mother, a nun, telling of her daughter’s unjust execution.

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It’s a Rivette film, all right. Long shots with medium natural lighting, deliberate camera movement, same typeface as always on the titles, brief blackouts between scenes, same list of collatorators in the credits. Quite a follow-up to La Belle noiseuse… I’ll bet nobody saw this coming. It works very well to Rivette’s strengths, though, and stays focused on Jeanne and her quest without gimmicks and without getting caught up in the scale of the story and the hundreds of side characters.

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Sandrine Bonnaire, a decade after Vagabond and a year before The Ceremony. I didn’t recognize anyone else besides a cameo by Edith Scob. IMDB says Jean de Metz, the guy who leads her to the king’s court, was in Hurlevent, King Charles (André Marcon) is appearing in Rivette’s new film, and Quentin from Out 1 played Pierre Baillot (who was that?).

with Edith Scob:
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Joan is charismatic and persuasive, but acts realistic. Her supernatural visions aren’t shown – we know Rivette isn’t above showing supernatural visions, but here he has Jeanne speak of them regularly without portraying them as a reality to the audience.

Unfortunately, this four-hour film has another two hours which I can’t see at the moment. Looks like Artificial Eye has released it on DVD. You know, my birthday is coming up…

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J. Rosenbaum:

…this is a materialist version of a story that offers no miracles, though it does offer a pertinent attentiveness to gender issues (such as the nervousness and sexual braggadocio of the soldiers who sleep beside Joan) and a Joan who’s girlish as well as devout, capable of giggling as well as experiencing pain; when she wins over the dauphin the scene is pointedly kept offscreen, and when she’s interrogated by priests about her faith she could almost be a graduate student defending a dissertation.

with the king/dauphin:
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C. Fujiwara:

As Rivette and Bonnaire present her, Joan suggests a novice movie director protected by a seasoned crew that humors her as much as obeys her. (Army life in this film is more sitting around than fighting; in this respect it’s like a film shoot.) She doesn’t do miracles; she just uses common sense and takes the initiative.

Finally it is SHOCKtober and I can watch Stuart Gordon movies again. This one is prep for Stuck, which should come out on video next week. It’s similar to Dagon in many ways: pretty good classic-lit-inspired story, foreign/period setting with cheap-but-good production values, spots of humor, sexual transgression… They’re fun movies to watch with some great characters, but our leads are bland, straightforward, naive dopes. It’s not like I’m rooting for Lance Henriksen, but I can’t bring myself to root for the baker and his wife either.

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Set during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 (when Columbus sailed the ocean blue), Lance stars as an evil monk who claims to be extremely religious but tosses the church aside when it interferes with his plan, a man who tortures people for confessions and insists what he’s doing is right. If the movie was released today, it’d be attacked for all the heavy-handed GW Bush comparisons. Lance is surrounded by his cronies: Stephen Lee (the toy-loving dude in Dolls), crazed torturer Mark Margolis (a Darren Aronofsky regular) and by-the-books Jeffrey Combs, and together they torture and kill a woman whose character name sounds like Contessa Alfred Molina (played by the director’s wife Carolyn) and one who claims to be an actual witch (played by the creeeepy hotel woman from In the Mouth of Madness).

Jeffrey Combs:
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Thrust into this lunacy are a baker and his wife. The baker (also in Gordon’s Castle Freak) is a regular boring dude who can inexplicably take out three knights in full armor using only a spoon, and the wife (her only other role is in a rarely-seen Raul Julia movie) is honest and religious and doesn’t trust the Inquisition. She’s arrested and accused of witchery after she protests a public execution scene, but evil Lance falls for her and tries to get her by alternately threatening to torture her/her husband and offering to release her/her husband. He cuts her tongue out, she escapes by faking death (with help of the real witch – who swallows gunpowder so her body will explode and her bones impale the crowd during her burning at the stake, which I don’t think would really work), the couple escape and Lance dies (torture-free) in his own spike pit beneath the pendulum. Oh, and in the middle there’s a visit from a cardinal (Oliver Reed from The Brood, The Devils and Burnt Offerings!), but Lance locks him up inside a wall a la Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado.”

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Lance is fun to watch as the monstrous monk. Lots of loving care is paid to torture equipment. Movie’s action scenes are weak, but overall I liked the thing. Happy Shocktober, everyone!