Final tally:
Perkins > Bacall > Gielgud > Connery > Cassel > Balsam > Roberts > Bisset >
(good/bad frontier)
Widmark > Hiller > Quilley > York > Bergman > Finney

Richard Widmark wakes up dead on a train, after asking detective Poirot to protect him the day before. Widmark was the mastermind of a heinous kidnapping in prologue, also a huge asshole, and it turns out all of the suspects had motives, each of them affected by his crime, and conspired to kill him together.

Languorously paced, and centered around Finney’s Mike Myers-like appearance and accent, it’s a near-disaster of a movie kept sporadically afloat by a few good scenes and performances, and a touching ending. Anthony Perkins was Widmark’s assistant – nervous, of course… Bergman is a timid religious fanatic who says “little brown babies” pretty often… Vanessa Redgrave is cute and smiley, having an affair with Sean Connery… Wendy Hiller in weird makeup and weird accent plays a princess.

Lumet made a lotta movies, more than forty and this was about the midpoint. The only other of his movies I’ve written about are his very first and his very last. Obviously a weird year for the oscars – Finney was nominated, Bergman won, and the whole list looks like New Hollywood and Old Hollywood in an ugly clash, trading awards between The Godfather II and The Towering Inferno.

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.


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.

Interesting, very good movie but I didn’t love it as much as everyone else seems to. Swept the Cesar awards in non-acting categories (a war film called Le Crabe-Tambour picked up the rest). I’ll bet Dennis Potter enjoyed it, too.

Come to think of it, looking over my screenshots a few weeks after writing the above paragraph, this was a damned complicated movie, and showed more imagination than Je t’aime, je t’aime. Definitely have to see again (and maybe again).


A writer (John Gielgud who, at 73, still had 60-some movies left in him over the next two decades) lives alone (with servants) in his big old house (“Providence”), spends the first two thirds of the movie dreaming up sordid lives for his family members, including his late wife (Elaine Stritch, lately in Romance & Cigarettes), his astro-scientist son (David Warner of Time Bandits), his lawyer son (Dirk Bogarde of The Servant and a bunch of Visconti films) and the lawyer’s wife (Ellen Burstyn of The Exorcist). He re-casts them, giving the lawyer and wife a bitter, joyless marriage, having them hold affairs with the other two. Stritch becomes an older woman with a terminal illness and Warner becomes a free man unsuccessfully prosecuted for murder. Scenes are re-written halfway through – Gielgud’s voice will narrate the action, then rethink things and suddenly characters will leave the scene or change their mind or the whole thing will start over with a different ending. So very Resnais-like, eh? Meanwhile, the writer himself is stumbling around the house at night, drinking, shitting, falling down, breaking things and griping about his ill health.

In the morning, he’s outside, it’s his 78th birthday, and his two sons and the lawyer’s lovely wife have a happy family visit, with dinner and gifts and happy memories. There’s a little bitterness, mentioning the writer’s wife who killed herself after diagnosed with a fatal disease, but overall it’s happy and serene, leaving us to wonder how much of the family problems and awful behavior from the first half of the movie were completely invented by the writer, and how much is actually there under the surface.


I’d thought I would enjoy six-time oscar-nominee Ellen Burstyn’s performance more, but maybe it suffered a bit from having just watched Rivette’s ladies in Love on the Ground – she seemed like the weakest link here, speaking as if she’d just received a script. Watching with headphones, the sound mix wasn’t so good either, but then neither was the quality of my downloaded movie very good, so this wasn’t optimal viewing experience. Liked the movie, fun to watch a bitter old man provide amused commentary on his own nightmares and imaginations, just didn’t blow me away.

Denis Lawson, who played the imaginary footballer (David Warner’s brother), appeared later the same year as Wedge Antilles in Star Wars, the film that helped decimate the world market for fancypants French films such as this one. In 1977 subtitles hadn’t been invented yet, so those watching in France heard the dubbed-in voices of actors Claude Dauphin (Le Plaisir), Francois Perier (Stavisky), Nelly Borgeaud (Mon oncle d’Amérique) and Gerard Depardieu.


Gielgud speaks the director’s thoughts: “It’s been said about my work that the search for style has often resulted in a want of feeling. However I’d put it another way, I’d say that style is feeling, in its most elegant and economic expression.”

Some woman wrote an article arguing that the ending is a dream also, but I’d have to pay $12 to read the full thing online.

There are weird flashes to military police and concentration camps, maybe explained by this American Cinematheque quote: “A fascinating visual tour de force exploring the creative process, offset by references to the nightmarish political crackdown in Chile in the late 1970’s.”

Ellen Burstyn:

V. Canby for NY Times did not like it: “The old man, it’s soon obvious, has imposed on these perfectly decent folk all of his own fears and guilts about a lifetime spent in philandering, selfishness, disinterest in his family, while he enjoyed a reputation as a writer he never really deserved. The structure is complicated but sadly un-complex.”

J. Travers on the ending: “Yet there is something about this Resnais-esque view of Paradise that is even more unsettling than the Hell we have just experienced. Which of these two interpretations paints the more accurate picture of the world in which we live? Can we take seriously the saccharine-doused scene of marital fidelity, brotherly friendship and sweet father-son love? Isn’t it more believable that the two sons would be rivals, that the elder son would have a mistress and would bitterly resent his father’s slow and demeaning death? Surely the world shown to us in the first part of the film, the world apparently belonging in the mind of a solitary writer, is the world that is nearer to our own, a far more accurate portrayal of human nature? The second world, of calm, family harmony and stability, is surely an illusion, a distorted memory of a past that never was, could never have been. Which reality do we believe?”