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Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 100 minutes.

OK for Children.

Orson Welles is one of the more fascinating figures in a Hollywood history filled with fascinating figures. Director Chuck Workman has done a wonderful job bringing this talented manís story to the screen. One of the best movies of the 21st Century was Me and Orson Welles (2008) which looked at the pre-Hollywood period of his life when he was The Shadow on radio and producing shows in New York.

This film looks at his entire life, telling something of his childhood and proceeding apace throughout his entire life, including his fall from grace after writing, directing, and starring in Citizen Kane when he was 25 years old and then abandoning the final work on The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) to film a documentary in South America at the behest of the U.S. government, leaving final cut to film editor Robert Wise (who also edited Citizen Kane) who some, including Welles, feel emasculated the film. RKO was not pleased. This, when added to the fury of William Randolph Hearst over Citizen Kane, made Orson persona non grata in Hollywood.

But he kept going and this film shows that he did a lot of good work after those films (like The Third Man, 1949 that led to a radio show starring Welles, and Touch of Evil, which he directed and starred in and has become a noir classic). Workman interviews lots of Wellesí contemporaries, including directors like Henry Jaglom and Peter Bogdanovich, Oja Kodar with whom he lived for the last 19 years of his life, and his daughter Christopher.

There are also clips of Orsonís appearances on talk shows, like Merv Griffin, in his later years. A friend of mine, the late Laddie Marshack, who was an editor for TV Guide among other things, appeared on the same show with him once and she told me that during one of the breaks she looked at him and saw fear in his eyes throughout the break, belying the graceful, relaxed impression he always made on these shows. Interestingly, he died in 1985 at 70 years of age two hours after a live TV interview with Merv Griffin, an excerpt of which is shown in the film.

This is an absorbing, riveting look at a complex man who has become a legend.