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March 23, 2006

One Late Night with Orson Welles



My schedule as been a bit awry. I am posting a piece written back in May of 2005 that was not published. I actually spent the majority of Wednesday devoted to my Abel Ferrara piece which will be published on Monday.

Man in the Shadow
Jack Arnold - 1957

The Tarters
Richard Thorpe - 1961

Turner Classic Movies

No rental DVDs came yesterday. After surveying the tv schedule I spotted these two lesser known films starring Orson Welles, actor for hire.

Thematically, Man in the Shadow seems like a warm-up for Touch of Evil. Both films were produced by Albert Zugsmith and have stories predicated on the relationship between a white woman and Mexican male and the enforcement of law versus the enforcement of the status quo.

Zugsmith and Welles confirm that Welles was given permission to re-write the parts of the script he was in. At least one part of the film looks like it was directed by Welles, or at least visually queued by Welles. There is a shot of Welles and his daughter, played by Colleen Miller, with the camera tilted, looking down a flight of stairs in a mansion. During this scene, I flash backed to memories of The Magnificent Ambersons, particularly the scenes of Tim Holt and Agnes Moorehead.

That Welles got the role in Man in the Shadow was fortuitous as the part was originally slated for Robert Middleton, a popular screen heavy, both in his roles and girth, of the 50s. Without this film, we may never have had Touch of Evil. Equally coincidental is that Welles got the Shadow part because he needed $60,000.00 for back taxes. Welles had originally anticipated getting the needed amount for directing Tip on a Dead Jockey for MGM. The deal fell through, and Jockey was directed by MGM house director Richard Thorpe, who in 1961 directed Welles in The Tarters.

The Tarters is bad, but at least it’s hilariously bad. The film is about Asian Tarters and Scandavian vikings, but as an Italian-Yugoslavian coproduction, has a cast with no one who looks convincingly like either. Dressed totally unlike any other viking, Victor Mature virtually prances around in a cape and hot pants, as the viking leader. There is also a scene with Welles, as the Tarter chief, presiding over a feast with his underlings. With the camera pointing in long shot towards the tent entrance, you expect the obligatory dancing girls to appear. What we get are dancing boys, well men actually, waving swords and doing back flips. While these dancers are genuinely talented and athletic, there is almost as much homoeroticism as in the title song dance from Thorpe’s earlier Jailhouse Rock.

Both stars ham it up, with Mature over emoting, while Welles cocks his eyebrows and glares, as if to show his general contempt for the film. The wigs are obvious, the costumes threadbare, and the six credited script writers came up with something begging to be hijacked by Monty Python or Mystery Science Theater. In other words, The Tarters is the kind of film that make you glad you get cable tv.

Posted by peter at March 23, 2006 11:02 AM


The Tartars poster looks intriguing. Does Orson Welles really run along a beach carrying a buxom blonde, and then have a fight to the death with Vic M? How much did he weigh at the time?

Posted by: Tim Footman at March 25, 2006 08:35 AM

I don't know how much Orson weighed. The poster artist used his imagination concerning the blonde. Welles sometimes could barely carry himself across the street.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at March 25, 2006 03:57 PM