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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Man In The Shadow Of Kane --- Part Two

RKO was cheerier as Citizen Kane proved a click in a test run at New York's 55th Street Playhouse, said Variety on Feb. 22, 1956. A first week at the 257-seat theatre grossed $7,650, a new high for the location. Also a first was the Hearst-owned Journal-American's willingness to reproduce ads for Kane, proof that all was finally forgiven. The film continued making trade headlines as CK bookings spread across the country. April saw a smash $6,700 opening week in Chicago, and there was an extended run in San Francisco. RKO withheld Kane from its TV-bound library as art-houses lined up to play what was shaping into the year's big revival. Los Angeles' El Rey Theatre settled into a May 25-June 19 stretch for total receipts of $11,600, encouraging oldie biz by any measure, and topping what King Kong did in its own LA summer '56 re-release.

Against this background, renewed press interest resulting from King Lear, and the TV appearances, Welles looked to be an improved bet for movies. Man In The Shadow producer Albert Zugsmith, by way of Frank Brady's Welles biography, recalled a phone call he received from a William Morris agent asking if OW might qualify for a not-yet cast role in Zugsmith's Autumn-shooting pic. Seems Welles was desperate for work to settle $60,000 owed the government. He'd play in "virtually any film" for the dough. As word got 'round of Orson's "heavy" part, trade wags sharpened quills. They must be breeding bigger and stronger hosses on the western trail these days, wrote Variety's "Retake" columnist George E. Phair, Orson Welles is going to gallop thataway as a cowboy in Pay The Devil. That title would eventually be changed, though teasing and frankly disrespectful attitudes toward Welles would not. Was an insider's press reveling now in OW's reduced circumstance?

Man In The Shadow began shooting on October 15, 1956. Welles' first call was for October 31 at 11:00 PM. According to director Jack Arnold, interviewed years later by Lawrence French, they filmed the ending first. This was a night exterior, and Welles right away took exception to Arnold's approach. Arnold being the party interviewed naturally recalled a brief test of directorial authority ending in his favor, Orson becoming compliant and cooperative from this first night on. The supporting star did make suggestions throughout filming, some of which Arnold said he implemented. What Welles lacked, according to his director, was "discipline."

Several have written that Welles "totally rewrote" his Man In The Shadow dialogue. Authorized biographer Barbara Leaming says OW made a grand and glorious entrance to the set and announced to cast and crew, You'll be interested to see the changes for today. According to Leaming, Welles' revisions were adjudged an improvement and handed out to co-players to learn over a next several hours as shooting was delayed. Producing Albert Zugsmith wrote an appreciation of Welles for Danny Peary's outstanding collection of star profiles, Close-Ups, published in 1978. Zugsmith said OW began proposing changes immediately upon Man In The Shadow's start, to make-up and wardrobe in addition to the script, improving and deepening his role as well as those of the other actors, according to AZ.

So how much of Man In The Shadow is Welles' creation? Certain of his dialogue is a tip-off ... he calls one henchman an "infernal idiot," a rebuke I'd like to think was Orson-penned. But wait ... what of lead lady Colleen Miller (above), a then-UI ingénue playing the Welles character's daughter? She spoke to Western Clippings' Mike Fitzgerald about Man In The Shadow and remembered the script as so bad, so mangled. As to a Wellsian contribution, Orson said he could fix the script, but there was no time, and he didn't care. Mostly, said Miller, she and OW played gin rummy together on the set.

Jack Arnold was efficient, finishing Man In The Shadow in twenty-one days, five under schedule, according to Army Archerd's column. Why then, did Universal delay release for over a year? By the time Man In The Shadow was ready to go, so was Welles' follow-up with Zugsmith, Touch Of Evil, which, oddly, had also started off as Pay The Devil. Universal got audience surveys on source novel Badge Of Evil, but women thought it sounded like a western, so Touch Of Evil was settled on (would there ever be a Pay The Devil from Universal?). Similarities between TOE and Man In The Shadow were apparent from a color section U-I ran in December 1957 trades. You'd think from Orson's sinister background art that these were a same movie. Would OW be stuck from here playing bad guys? Touch Of Evil's April 1958 dates tumbling over previous December-opened Man In The Shadow made it seem so.

Both pictures filled modest dates, generally no more than two weeks, in key cities. They'd almost always play with a co-feature, usually of action or western persuasion. Still, Touch Of Evil and Man In The Shadow led marquees. I found neither at the bottom of bills. Universal was by spring of 1958 looking to move beyond in-house product done on reduced budget. Said Variety: It's expected that U will drop program-type pictures and open the lot to independents who will produce films on a partnership basis with Universal financing. That would mean fewer features annually, at least for a next several seasons.

Albert Zugsmith was moving to MGM. His first project announced for there was Hot Wind In Acapulco, which as of September 1957, seemed set for Orson Welles to direct. Did OW's post-production quarrel over Touch Of Evil queer this third round with Zugsmith? TOE had meanwhile been taken over by Universal editors, and scenes were added. Charlton Heston returned to the lot in November 1957, six months after Touch Of Evil was thought completed, for further shooting, this within days of his finishing The Big Country, and just ahead of starting on The Buccaneer at Paramount. For Heston, it was a matter of protecting investment ... his Touch Of Evil deal called for profit participation.

Orson Welles did attend a Brussels Film Festival showing of Touch Of Evil in June, 1958. Some critics at least embraced his effort ... TOE was among Top Ten grossing US features playing on Paris screens that month. Names in Fest attendance were prominent, if not numerous. William Holden and Sophia Loren appeared on behalf of The Key, John Mills and Lilli Palmer showed up for respective Brit and Euro pics they toplined. Observers called Touch Of Evil "somewhat confusing" and noted poor acoustics at its showing. Competing entrants The Key, The Proud Rebel, and Raintree Country got better crowd reaction. The festival's theatre seated 2,000, but was generally less than half-full, partly because there were two admission fees, one for the event itself, and another for individual films, hardly conducive towards generating excitement, said Variety.

Welles let off steam in what was called a remarkably frank letter to The New Statesman and Nation, a British literary and political weekly. This was published in early June 1958, just ahead of his Brussels appearance and in the wake of TOE's alternatively fair, soft, and/or tepid reception at US boxoffices. Touch Of Evil was top-of-the-bill, sure, but how much help were co-features like The Female Animal or Day Of The Badmen, both out of bottom drawers at Universal and the very sort of output they were looking to phase out? The New Statesman and Nation had given Touch Of Evil what trades called a critical review, one that writer-to-the-editor Welles wouldn't take lying down. As author-director, I was not consulted on the matter of release of my film without a trade showing, he claimed. One can only assume that the distributor was so terrified of what the critics would write about it that a rash attempt was made to evade them altogether ...

Welles' broadside then went further behind-scenes, this more a no-no in 1958 when company/artist conflicts were better played out behind studio walls. OW referred to the wholesale re-editing (of Touch Of Evil) by the executive producer, a process of re-hashing in which I was forbidden to participate. Confusion was further confounded by several added scenes which I did not write and was not invited to direct. Welles concluded by expressing resignation with a Hollywood system he couldn't change: I have to take what comes along or accept the alternative, which is not working at all. The latter, at least insofar as further employment at Universal or with Zugsmith, might have been achieved in part for Variety picking up on Welles' letter and publishing same to industry leadership, not a good thing for future OW prospects in H'wood. I can't help wondering if Orson maybe wished he could have un-rung that bell.

Lots more Orson-antics and Touch Of Evil Parts One and Two at Greenbriar Archives.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:25 AM  

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