The Rosebud Express


Bearing both Sirkian title and narrative blueprint, but directed by Irving Pichel, TOMORROW IS FOREVER (1946), a melodrama maudit about a long-thought-dead war veteran (Welles, dissembled by nothing more than a beard and a bratwurst-belch Bavarian accent) returning home unrecognized to look in on his own widow and grown son, lacks the plushly assertive insanity of Sirk, and serves as an illustration of just how difficult a woman's weepie is to confect. There's a heavy reverence for something, perhaps the group experience of WW II, that attempts to import distinction from the void, and while this nothingness suffusing the picture may stand in for the emptiness returning G.I.'s beheld when they appraised their futures, the effect is purely accidental, and a little bit dull. True Orsonophiles will be delighted by the sheer size of the role assigned to their favorite, the commitment with which he attacks the job, and the strangely pleasing sight of him stealing scenes that were already his on the page. Welles, typically, is clearly out to save the movie from itself—you can feel his extracurricular influence on the child performers, especially the gifted eight-year-old Natalie Wood, who was almost certainly tutored by her hefty colleague over lunchtime pies, and you can even feel him coaxing Toland-like work out of the cinematographer in the climactic tempest-toss'd scenes. Still, there is something postprandially sluggish in the leading man. It is Claudette Colbert (a great Sirk leading lady that got away), maneuvering her famous left profile through domestic traumas and eerily contemporary war propaganda, who brings just the right note of stylized conviction to this curious genre picture and makes possible the cathartic tear-spilling that is its purpose. —GUY MADDIN

Welles as Harry Lime in The Third Man
photo: Rialto Pictures
Welles as Harry Lime in The Third Man


Orson Welles
February 20 through April 15
Film Forum
See for full schedule


A borderline horror flick, Welles's expressionist and magical MACBETH (1948), unlike most screen versions of Shakespeare, is pure cinema. It was but three weeks in production at low-budget horse-opera mill Republic studio, stunningly shot by cameraman John L. Russell (who later shot Psycho). Welles is superb as the tragic hero, and in spite of the film's limitations, a good deal of the play's power comes through. One of the director's most personal creations, it's a courageous experiment with a craggy barbaric splendor all its own.

OTHELLO (1952), created piecemeal in Italy and Morocco over four years, turned out to be a lesser work than Macbeth. In Welles's version, the Moor is already dead at the start, and as with Citizen Kane, the facts are then investigated. The florid mise-en-scène gives full play to complex compositions and tilted camera angles. Individual scenes are in an unrestrainedly operatic bravura style, and while the film succeeds visually, it ultimately fails as drama. Even Welles couldn't do everything. He seems miscast as Othello, while Micheál MacLiammóir delivers a subtly insinuating performance as an Iago whose anger and jealousy, it is hinted, are motivated by feelings of sexual incapacity. —ELLIOTT STEIN

Related Article:
J. Hoberman's review of The Magnificent Ambersons

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