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Scary Orson

Thursday 10/17/19

I have just come back from the Starbucks. Went to get a hot chocolate, did not get the hot chocolate, sat instead and came up with five new short story ideas. I will set that aside for now and do this.

During a mid-1940s radio broadcast, Orson Welles expresses confusion that people link his name with thrillers--as in, scary undertakings--because he's only done a handful of works like that, but perhaps it's merely because of 1938's The War of the Worlds. Welles actually did a lot with horror--a real lot--if you know where to look. I think next week on the radio I'll discuss that. I did an NPR segment on that War of the Worlds broadcast, I've written on the same year's radio play of Dracula for Vice, and 1948's Macbeth as a horror film for The Smart Set.

Here is the full version of Macbeth. Such a contrast with Olivier's Shakespeare. It is primitive, primordial, a film that climbs from out of a supernatural ooze. Welles made the picture for a studio that specialized in cheap Westerns, because he couldn't get work anywhere else.

This is the short film, Return to Glennascaul, shot in 1951 while on a break--one of the many breaks--from shooting Othello. The latter featured Welles's buddy--and often foil, sometimes foe--Micheál Mac Liammóir as Iago. Welles met the actor when he was blagging his way up onto the Dublin stage as a teenager, as well as his partner, Hilton Edwards. Mac Liammóir produces, Edwards directs here, though the technique and the wit is demonstrably Wellesian, and it is Welles--or, rather, the Welles persona, we might say--that providers the picture's frame device. Mac Liammóir wrote one of the great cinematic memoirs in Put Money in Thy Purse, which was about shooting the story of the Moor with Welles. Alternately hilarious and depressing. He was not a punch-puller, which Welles respected, going so far as to write the introduction for the book, even after he read what it had to say about him.

This is an episode of The Shadow called The Three Ghosts, from Halloween 1937; in other words, it is what Welles was up to on the Halloween preceding the famous War of the Worlds Broadcast. The Shadow is kind of dick/prig. And he's pretty passive aggressive. Which is amusing. Has a major thing for screwing with people and playing God. But it is, I guess, in the name of justice? Yes, justice.

I love this, it's awfully good. Welles in Lucille Fletcher's The Hitch-Hiker. She wrote a chilling, modernized version of Le Fanu's Carmilla (lesbian vampire story, which influenced 1936's Daughter of Dracula, which I wrote about for Vice as well once) as a radio play in 1940, and, of course, Sorry, Wrong Number for Suspense in 1944, a gold standard for radio chillers. I have talked about her on the radio. Welles did a number of versions of her Hitch-Hiker radio play, which she herself cribbed from E.F. Benson's "The Bus Conductor." The framework of the story became a Twilight Zone episode, and the foundation for 1962's Carnival of Souls. which I also recently touched on on the radio. Welles rallies to the quality of the material. I think it's one of his best vocal acting performances.

This, meanwhile, is not. Welles would not say no to much if money was involved and it could be used to finance the making of his own films. I get that. I'd never knock it. I'd knock the people who put him in that situation. It's a dreck-fest from 1972 called Necromancy. Welles heads up a cult, resurrects the dead, etc.

Five other Suspense broadcasts here. Welles is strong in The Most Dangerous Game, he's funny in the meta-The Dark Tower--which includes a reference to himself; Donovan's Brain is revered and is a two-parter, major departure for Suspense. The "sure sure sure" part will stay with you. Welles employs a lot of different voices and tonalities in these roles. Welles, a lifelong magician--it was one of his great passions--plays a magician at that in The Marvelous Barastro. And here he tackles Agatha Christie in Philomel Cottage.

This Mercury Theatre broadcast covers three short stories, including Saki's excellent "The Open Window."

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