(Photo by Courtesy Everett Collection)
Orson Welles made the greatest directorial debut ever with 1941’s Citizen Kane, the story of the life and death of media magnate Charles Foster Kane. It’s a drama epic in dramatic and temporal scope, awash in narrative and moral ambiguity, and groundbreaking camerawork that expanded the cinematic language. Welles, who rose to fame through radio and theater (his 1938 adaptation broadcast of The War of the Worlds is mythologized for creating an actual Martian invasion panic), followed up with 1942’s family drama The Magnificent Ambersons. The film, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary, was taken away from Welles during editing. Studio financer RKO destroyed roughly a third of the footage, yet the 88-minute final film is still a masterpiece.
Welles closed out the ’40s with noir The Lady from Shanghai, which he co-starred in with Rita Hayworth. He made the final great classic noir Touch of Evil, though he was also forced out of the edit room there by Universal. Welles’ revolutionary methods and uncompromising perfectionism led to frequent wrestling with external forces and powers, with multiple films released posthumously, including 1993’s It’s All True (a documentary on his unfinished three-part South American epic), Hopper/Welles (a conversation with Dennis Hopper), and The Other Side of the Wind, completed and released in 2018.
Welles slowed down as a director in the decade before his death in 1985, but had released major works in 1970s (the intricate meta-documentary F for Fake) and the 1960s (adaptations of Franz Kafka’s The Trial and Shakespeare’s Falstaff, released in America as Chimes at Midnight).
Adjusted Score: 116092%
Critics Consensus: Orson Welles’s epic tale of a publishing tycoon’s rise and fall is entertaining, poignant, and inventive in its storytelling, earning its reputation as a landmark achievement in film.
Adjusted Score: 100231%
Critics Consensus: A classic story adapted by a filmmaker near his creative peak, Chimes at Midnight unites Welles and Shakespeare – and powerfully distills the best of both.
Adjusted Score: 105594%
Critics Consensus: Artistically innovative and emotionally gripping, Orson Welles’ classic noir is a visual treat, as well as a dark, sinister thriller.
Adjusted Score: 93021%
Critics Consensus: Assembled with bold visual craft and penetrating insight, The Magnificent Ambersons further establishes writer-director Orson Welles as a generational talent.
Adjusted Score: 92560%
Critics Consensus: F for Fake playfully poses intriguing questions while proving that even Orson Welles’ minor works contain their share of masterful moments.
Adjusted Score: 88500%
Critics Consensus: A satisfying must-watch for diehard cineastes, The Other Side of the Wind offers the opportunity to witness a long-lost chapter in a brilliant filmmaker’s career.
Adjusted Score: 88758%
Critics Consensus: Energetic and inventive, The Lady from Shanghai overcomes its script deficiencies with some of Orson Welles’ brilliantly conceived set pieces.
Adjusted Score: 98885%
Critics Consensus: The sins of World War II reemerge in an idyllic American setting in this diabolically effective noir, buoyed by Orson Welles’ virtuosic direction and performance.
Adjusted Score: 89065%
Critics Consensus: This haunting, eccentric Macbeth may be hampered by budget constraints, but Orson Welles delivers both behind and in front of the camera.
Adjusted Score: 85898%
Critics Consensus: Orson Welles may take big liberties in his adaptation of The Trial, but the auteur constructs an absurd nightmare that is unmistakably Kafkaesque — grounded by an excellent Anthony Perkins as the befuddled Josef K.