The great Orson Welles was born 106 years ago today, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Orson Welles was one of the greatest directors of all time, a showman and an artist who changed the way that people watched and thought about films. He was the visionary who helped to usher in the era of modern filmmaking and who proved that movies could be art and Hollywood never forgave him for it. Merely seven years after the release of Citizen Kane, Orson Welles found himself as such a pariah in the American film industry that he relocated to Europe. There, he made some of his best films though few of them would be fully appreciated when first released.
(Indeed, there still seems to be the strange need among some to try to diminish Orson Welles’s talents and achievements. Just last year, Mank tried to deny him the credit that he most certainly deserved for Citizen Kane. Interestingly enough, David Fincher claimed that his father’s original script portrayed Welles even more negatively than Welles came across in the finished film. One has to wonder about the motives of anyone who would slander Orson Welles while deifying Upton Sinclair.)
1965’s Chimes At Midnight is one of Welles’s best. Filmed in Spain, Chimes at Midnight is combination of five of Shakespeare’s plays, primarily Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2, but also Richard II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Welles cast himself in the role of Falstaff, enjoying life while educating the young Prince Hal in the ways of the world. When Prince Hal becomes Henry V, Falstaff attends his coronation, just to be rejected. The new king has new place in his court for someone like Falstaff. Was Prince Hal perhaps a stand-in for the many filmmakers who claimed to have been inspired by Welles’s work but who still refused to help Welles when he later came to them for help? Perhaps.
In the scene below, Falstaff is rejected by the new king. It’s a heart-breaking moment and one that features some of Welles’s best work as both an actor and a director.