Orson Welles

Filmmakers/Actors

George Orson Welles (May 6, 1915 – October 10, 1985) was an American actor, director, writer and producer who is remembered for his innovative work in radio, theatre and film. He is considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. While in his twenties Welles directed a number of high-profile stage productions for the Federal Theatre Project, including an adaptation of Macbeth with an entirely African American cast and the political musical The Cradle Will Rock. In 1937 he and John Houseman founded the Mercury Theatre, an independent repertory theatre company that presented a series of productions on Broadway through 1941, including Caesar (1937), a Broadway adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

In 1938, his radio anthology series The Mercury Theatre on the Air gave Welles the platform to find international fame as the director and narrator of a radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’s novel The War of the Worlds, which caused widespread panic because many listeners thought that an invasion by extraterrestrial beings was actually occurring. Although some contemporary sources say these reports of panic were mostly false and overstated, they rocketed Welles to notoriety.

His first film was Citizen Kane (1941), which is consistently ranked as the greatest film ever made, which he co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in as Charles Foster Kane (it was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, winning 1 for Best Original Screenplay. Welles released twelve other features, the most acclaimed of which include The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Lady from Shanghai (1947; co-starring his wife at the time Rita Hayworth), Touch of Evil (1958), with Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, and Marlene Dietrich; The Trial (1962), Chimes at Midnight (1966) and F for Fake (1973). His distinctive directorial style featured layered and nonlinear narrative forms, uses of lighting such as chiaroscuro, unusual camera angles, sound techniques borrowed from radio, deep focus shots and long takes. He has been praised as “the ultimate auteur.”

Notable acting roles (in which he didn’t direct), include Jane Eyre (1943), with Joan Fontaine; Tomorrow Is Forever (1945), with Claudette Colbert and George Brent; Black Magic (1949), Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949), with Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, and Trevor Howard; Henry King‘s Prince of Foxes (1949), with Tyrone Power; Trouble in the Glen (1954), with Margaret Lockwood, Forrest Tucker and Victor McLaglen; John Huston‘s Moby Dick (1956), with Gregory Peck, Richard Basehart, and Leo Genn; Martin Ritt‘s The Long, Hot Summer (1958), with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward; Huston’s The Roots of Heaven (1958), with Errol Flynn, Juliette Gréco, Trevor Howard, Eddie Albert, Paul Lukas, Herbert Lom and Grégoire Aslan; Austerlitz (1960), with Pierre Mondy, Jean Marais, Rossano Brazzi, Martine Carol, Jack Palance, Claudia Cardinale, Vittorio De Sica, Leslie Caron, and Jean-Louis Trintignant; The V.I.P.s (1963), with Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Louis Jourdan, Elsa Martinelli, Maggie Smith, Rod Taylor, and Margaret Rutherford; Fred Zinnermann Is Paris Burning? (1966), with Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon, Gert Fröbe, Kirk Douglas, Bruno Cremer, Pierre Vaneck, Caron, Glenn Ford, Anthony Perkins, and Jean-Pierre Cassel; A Man for All Seasons (1966), with Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, Leo McKern, Robert Shaw, Susannah York, and John Hurt; the James Bond spoof Casino Royale (1967), with Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Barbara Bouchet, David Niven, Woody Allen, Joanna Pettet, and Daliah Lavi; Mike Nichols’s Catch-22 (1970), with Alan Arkin, Bob Balaban, Martin Balsam, Richard Benjamin, Olimpia Carlisi, Marcel Dalio, Art Garfunkel, Jack Gilford, Charles Grodin, Bob Newhart, Anthony Perkins, Austin Pendleton, Paula Prentiss, Martin Sheen, and Jon Voight; One of his last credited roles was the voice of Unicron in The Transformers: The Movie (1986), with the voices of Eric Idle, Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Casey Kasem, Robert Stack, Lionel Stander, John Moschitta Jr., Peter Cullen and Frank Welker.

Welles was an outsider to the studio system, and struggled for creative control on his projects early on with the major film studios in Hollywood and later in life with a variety of independent financiers across Europe, where he spent most of his career. Many of his films were either heavily edited or remained unreleased. Some, like Touch of Evil, have been painstakingly re-edited from his notes. With a development spanning almost 50 years, Welles’s final film, The Other Side of the Wind, was released in 2018.

Welles had three marriages, including one with Hayworth, and three children. Known for his baritone voice, Welles performed extensively across theatre, radio and film. He was a lifelong magician noted for presenting troop variety shows in the war years. In 2002 he was voted the greatest film director of all time in two British Film Institute polls among directors and critics. In 2018 he was included in the list of the 50 greatest Hollywood actors of all time by The Daily Telegraph.

Each review will be linked to the title below.

(*seen originally in theaters)

(**seen rereleased in theaters)

Writer/Director

  • Twelfth Knight (1933) – short
  • The Hearts of Age (1934) – short; co-director
  • Too Much Johnson (1938) – part of a stage production
  • The Green Goddess (1939) – short
  • Citizen Kane (1941)**
  • The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
  • Journey Into Fear (1943) – uncredited co-director
  • The Story of Samba (1943) – short
  • It’s All True (1943) – unfinished, co-director
  • The Stranger (1946)
  • The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
  • Macbeth (1948)
  • Othello (1951)
  • Mr. Arkadin (1955)
  • Moby Dick Rehearsed (1955) – TV movie
  • Touch of Evil (1958)
  • The Fountain of Youth (1958) – TV short
  • The Trial (1962)
  • Chimes at Midnight (1965)
  • Treasure Island (1965) – unfinished
  • The Immortal Story (1968) – TV movie
  • The Merchant of Venice (1969) – TV short, partially lost
  • The Deep (1970) – unfinished
  • London (1971) – short
  • F for Fake (1974)
  • The Dreamers (1982) – unfinished
  • Don Quixote (1992) – incomplete, released posthumously
  • The Other Side of the Wind (2018) – released posthumously

Actor

  • Swiss Family Robinson (1940) – directed by Edward Ludwig
  • Jane Eyre (1943) – directed by Robert Stevenson
  • Follow the Boys (1944) – directed by
  • A. Edward Sutherland
  • Tomorrow Is Forever (1945) – directed by Irving Pichel
  • Duel in the Sun (1946) – directed by King Vidor – uncredited narrator
  • Black Magic (1949) – directed by Gregory Ratoff – also uncredited co-director
  • The Third Man (1949) – directed by Carol Reed
  • Prince of Foxes (1949) – directed by Henry King
  • The Black Rose (1950) – directed by Henry Hathaway
  • The Little World of Don Camillo (1952) – directed by Julien Duvivier – English dub – Italy/France
  • Trent’s Last Case (1952) – directed by Herbert Wilcox
  • Man, Beast and Virtu (1953) – directed by Steno – aka L’uomo la bestia e la virtù – Italy
  • Return to Glennascaul (1953) – short
  • Royal Affairs in Versailles (1954) – directed by Sacha Guitry – aka Si Versailles m’était conté – France/Italy
  • Trouble in the Glen (1954) – directed by Herbert Wilcox
  • Three Cases of Murder (1955) – directed by David Eady, George More O’Ferrall, & Wendy Toye – also uncredited director – anthology
  • Napoleon (1955) – directed by Sacha Guitry
  • Moby Dick (1956) – directed by John Huston
  • Man in the Shadow (1957) – directed by Jack Arnold
  • The Long, Hot Summer (1958) – directed by Martin Ritt
  • The Vikings (1958) – directed by Richard Fleischer – uncredited narrator
  • The Roots of Heaven (1958) – directed by John Huston
  • Masters of the Congo Jungle (1958)
  • Compulsion (1959) – directed by Richard Fleischer
  • Ferry to Hong Kong (1959) – directed by Lewis Gilbert
  • David and Goliath (1960) – directed by Ferdinando Baldi & Richard Pottier – aka David e Golia – Italy
  • Crack the Mirror (1960) – directed by Richard Fleischer
  • An Arabian Night (1960) –
  • The Battle of Austerlitz (1960)
  • The Tartars (1961) – directed by Richard Thorpe
  • King of Kings (1961) – directed by Nicholas Ray – uncredited narrator
  • Lafayette (1962) – directed by Jean Dréville – France/Italy
  • Ro.Go.Pa.G. (1963) – directed by Jean-Luc Godard, Ugo Gregoretti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, & Roberto Rossellini – anthology
  • The V.I.P.s (1963) – directed by Anthony Asquith
  • The Finest Hours (1964)
  • Marco the Magnificent (1965)
  • La isla del tesoro (1965) – short
  • Is Paris Burning? (1966) – directed by René Clément – France/US
  • A Man for All Seasons (1966) – directed by Fred Zinnermann
  • Casino Royale (1967) – directed by Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Val Guest, & Richard Talmadge (uncredited)
  • The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967)
  • I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname (1967) – directed by Michael Winner
  • Oedipus the King (1968)
  • House of Cards (1968)
  • The Last Roman (1968)
  • Tepepa (1969)
  • The Southern Star (1969)
  • Kampf um Rom II – Der Verrat (1969)
  • The Battle of Neretva (1969)
  • 12 + 1 (1969)
  • To Build a Fire (1969) – short
  • The Kremlin Letter (1970) – directed by John Huston
  • Start the Revolution Without Me (1970) – directed by Bud Yorkin
  • Catch-22 (1970) – directed by Mike Nichols
  • Upon this Rock (1970) – TV movie
  • Waterloo (1970)
  • Is It Always Right to Be Right? (1970) – short
  • A Safe Place (1971)
  • Ten Days Wonder (1971)
  • Freedom River (1971)
  • The Legend of Doom House (1971)
  • Directed by John Ford (1971) – directed by Peter Bogdanovich – narrator – documentary
  • Necromancy (1972) – directed by Bert I. Gordon
  • Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972) – directed by Brian De Palma
  • Treasure Island (1972)
  • The Man Who Came to Dinner (1972) – TV movie
  • The Battle of Sutjeska (1973)
  • The Cave: a parable told by Orson Welles (1973) – short
  • Ten Little Indians (1974)
  • Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (1975) – TV short
  • Voyage of the Damned (1976)
  • Hot Tomorrows (1977)
  • It Happed One Christmas (1977) – TV movie
  • Some Call It Greed (1977)
  • Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1977) – short
  • The Biggest Battle (1978)
  • A Woman Called Moses (1978) – mini-series, 2 episodes
  • The Muppet Movie (1979)** – directed by James Frawley – cameo
  • The Double McGuffin (1979)
  • The New Media Bible: The Book of Genesis (1979)
  • The Secret Life of Nikola Tesla (1980) – directed by Krsto Papić – aka Tajna Nikole Tesle – Yugoslavia
  • Shogun (1980) – min-series, 5 episodes
  • The Greenstone Narrated by Orson Welles (1980) – short
  • The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (1981) – directed by Robert Guenette
  • History of the World, Part I (1981) – directed by Mel Brooks
  • Tales of the Klondike (1981) –
  • The Enchanted Journey (1981) – directed by Hideo Nishimaki – aka Gurikku no Bōken – English dub (released in 1986) – Japan
  • Butterfly (1982) – directed by Matt Cimber
  • Slapstick of Another Kind (1982) – directed by Steven Paul – uncredited
  • Wagner e Venezia (1982) – TV short
  • Where Is Parsifal (1984)
  • The Transformers: The Movie (1986)** directed by Nelson Shin – released posthumously
  • Hot Money (1986) – released posthumously
  • Someone to Love (1987) – directed by Henry Jaglom – released posthumously
  • Spaced Invaders (1990) – directed by Patrick Read Johnson – archive audio