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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Man In The Shadow of Kane --- Part One

Here's news you might not know, which I stumbled across by near accident. Man In The Shadow is available on DVD from Universal's Vault Series, and for Orson Welles completists, it's a long-awaited prologue to much better known Touch Of Evil. To see these in tandem is to better know Welles' circumstances circa 1956-58, when Hollywood again opened doors (and checkbooks) to an exile returned home to try again. And here's a bonus ... Man In The Shadow entertains but well, especially scope-rendered and given fair chance to dispel non-entity placement among OW ventures during a hurly-burly 50's. It was his first stood before Hollywood cameras since seeming forever, acting yes, and not as director, but evidence is there, anecdotal and via Orson-voiced dialogue, of his behind-scenes influence.

Given Heston-strength, Shadows star Jeff Chandler might have insisted Welles direct as well, but this was Jeff's exit bow for Universal, so whatever his estimation of Orson, why rock boats? People figure Man In The Shadow for junk because it top-lines Chandler, others affixed a "western" label like uninspired ones Jeff had earlier done. To verify these as bum raps is now simple as watching the DVD. First, Man In The Shadow has a modern-West backdrop, trucks and station wagons in lieu of horseflesh. Cultists might forget Welles and focus on directing Jack Arnold, whose best non-sci-fi this might be. The desert and parched town setting hosts events that might occur in immediate wake of the same director's Tarantula disposal, so similar are backlot streets and arid location. I watched Man In The Shadow/Tarantula one after t'other and could swear these were crises visited on a same town, John Agar and Jeff Chandler as tag-team solid citizens ridding their burg of giant spider/ Orson Welles threat.

So where did Welles stand as of 1956? January that year found him doing King Lear at New York's City Centre with a fractured left ankle, fast followed by a sprained right ankle. Variety called this a jinxed climax to a show weighed down in costs and delay. A Friday the 13th "performance," which it surely was with Welles in a wheelchair imploring a paid audience not to demand refunds (many did), came down to the star chucking Lear to play raconteur and engage Q/A with ones who'd stayed. Yes, he gave them twenty or so minutes of Shakespeare speeching, but informal back-and-forth was what made this evening memorable. Camera bugs got busy till Orson requested they desist ... Just that little click is enough extra strain on my nerves to be unbearable, he said in Kong-like reaction to flash-bulbs popping --- his hobbled King Lear being panned by NY critics left Welles in high dudgeon.

The Q-and-A session at times had a very intimate confessional quality, observed Variety. OW discussed with his audience the pain of bad reviews. A front-rower asked how he could go on after reading critic slams (and ones for Lear were doozies). Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again, he song-quoted. At age 40, Welles was hardly the reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci, despite his seeming determination to "do everything," this being high-style back in the radio environment of the 1930's which specialized in boy geniuses, said a disrespecting trade. One "embarrassing" question put to Orson, noted Variety, concerned Citizen Kane, over which he declined ... to be drawn into a discussion. After all, hadn't his debut feature been deep-sixed since controversial release in 1941? As of fifteen years later, there was no unearthing this skeleton, as organizers at the Ottawa Film Society had discovered when they attempted to book Kane in November 1955. It is somewhat difficult to obtain, said the group's bulletin to disappointed membership.

Events of February 1956 would change all this. Is The Heat Off "Citizen Kane"?, asked Variety's front page on the 15th of that month. RKO was testing water with engagements at Boston's Brattle Theatre and the 55th Street Playhouse in New York. Both were owned and operated by Bryant Haliday and Cyrus Harvey, Jr., whose idea this was. The duo figured publicity off King Lear might stir interest, along with Welles' ubiquity of late on TV. The Hearst mess and attendant blocked exhib-ing of Kane was mentioned, as was confidence that WR's death safely took Welles and his movie off griddles. Anyway, it was worth gambling expense of a new safety print (a first for Kane?) to find out.

To paraphrase the pic, Orson at least was news even if Citizen Kane was not. At the Hollywood Athletic Club, a rotund Orson Welles told us he doesn't want to act anymore, reported Army Archerd in his Variety column. OW was on a coffee and cottage cheese diet in prep for a televised go at the Barrymore part in 20th Century (with Betty Grable succeeding Carole Lombard). "The awesome Orson" had a novel on track and films he'd direct waiting in Europe, or so he said. Meantime, say biographers, there was an IRS claim that wouldn't wait. To news that his 1941 millstone was back in circulation, Welles remarked, Just when I'm getting back on good terms with the Hearst press ... Citizen Kane gets reissued!


Blogger MDG14450 said...

Caught this one a few years ago at GEH and remember liking it, despite the fact that westerns about the "big man who has the town in his pocket" is one of my least=favorite genres (The Man from Laramie notwithstanding).

"The desert and parched town setting hosts events that might occur in immediate wake of the same director's Tarantula disposal, so similar are backlot streets and arid location."

I remember watching Creature Features when I was 12 and suddenly coming to the realization that Tarantula, It Came From Outer Space, The Monolith Monsters, Earth vs the Spider, and a half-dozen others all seemed to happen in the same town. Wish I lived there.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

IMDB lists MAN IN THE SHADOW as having a January, 1958 release date, so it looks as if UI held this one back for a bit before putting it out.

It played my area March 16-18, 1958 at the CENTER THEATRE - Salisbury, N.C.

Then April 26-27, 1958 at the ROCKWELL THEATRE - Rockwell, N.C.

Then, oddly, didn't hit any local drive-in until over a year later, October 16-17, 1959 at the SALISBURY DRIVE-IN THEATRE - Salisbury, N.C. where it played under NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS.

3:21 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Tarantulas,Giant rocks and now Orson Welles terrorizes desert town? don't gotta twist my arm!

10:48 PM  
Anonymous mido505 said...

William Alland, who played the shadowy but ubiquitious reporter Thompson in CITIZEN KANE, was a producer at Universal during the 1950's. He produced a number of Jack Arnold's flicks, including THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN in 1957, the trailer for which Welles narrated. Although Alland did not produce MAN IN THE SHADOW (the producer was Albert Zugsmith, who went on to produce TOUCH OF EVIL), I wonder if it was not Alland who got Welles through Universal's door and back in the Hollywood game. Connections, connections, and another example of how traditional Welles biography has much to answer for. F FOR FAKE, indeed.

Here's an interesting tidbit I pulled off Wellesnet; it comes from an addendum to an interview Larry French did with Jack Arnold:

"According to film historian Tom Weaver, William Alland, the producer of Creature From The Black Lagoon, was having dinner at Welles house in Hollywood, with Welles, Dolores Del Rio and the Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa (which means it was probably 1941 or early 1942). At dinner, Figueroa related a story about a half-man; half-fish that once a year came out of the depths of the Amazon River to claim a maiden from a native village. Figueroa swore that this was a true story, and William Alland later developed the idea of this Amazon Man-Fish into a story he called 'The Sea Monster.' Ten years later, when Alland became a producer for Universal, his story served as the basis of Creature From The Black Lagoon".

MAN IN THE SHADOW is available on Netflix as streaming download. I would not have known, were it not for this invaluable post. Thank you, John, once again.

12:32 AM  
Anonymous Joe Dante said...

Actually Albert Zugsmith produced Shrinking Man, which is probably how he got Welles to narrate the trailer.

10:05 PM  
Blogger Linwood said...

I recently watched MAN IN THE SHADOW on Netflix because of Welles and Jack Arnold. Despite the talent on display, the movie seemed like a typical economical programmer from good old UI. I was dismayed to see that Welles' character was so softened by the end that it made me wonder if some post-production tinkering had gone on.

1:53 AM  
Anonymous mido505 said...

Oops, that's what happens when I misread a YouTube caption and fail to verify the information. Oh well, at least I can say I've been corrected by Joe Dante...

9:29 AM  

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