Oheka_Castle
Josh Cabat

Josh Cabat

Long Island’s Role in the Greatest Film Ever Made & More! : 10 Must-See Films by Orson Welles

In 1941, The Oheka Castle in Huntington, NY was part of the iconic opening montage for Orson Welles’ classic film Citizen Kane. Oheka appeared as Xanadu, the grand home of the film’s main character Charles Foster Kane.

With Oheka’s place in film history cemented, let’s fast forward almost 80 years. After four decades of squabbles over rights and other delays, Orson Welles’ final film, The Other Side of the Wind, was released in a handful of theatres and for streaming on Netflix early last month.  Was it worth such an epic wait? Ultimately, it was a disappointment, but it still clearly has a place in the context of the rest of Welles’ unique, brilliant and ultimately heartbreaking career.   Was Welles a victim, the embodiment of what happens when art comes into conflict with commerce in Hollywood? Or was his troubled career due, at least in part, to his own immeasurable streak of self-destructiveness?  Here’s a list of films to help you decide.

10. THE THIRD MAN (1949)

Though directed by Carol Reed, Welles’ unforgettable turn as the evil profiteer Harry Lime fits perfectly into his pantheon of men of dark mystery who reside at the center of so much of his work

9. F FOR FAKE (1975) 1949)

A unique, at turns brilliant and infuriating “film essay” where Welles uses multiple formats to explore the idea of illusion

8. THE TRIAL (1962)

Welles’ film of Kafka’s unfilmable book has two things going for it: the animated opening “Before the Law” sequence and Anthony Perkins’ performance as Josef K

7. THE STRANGER (1945)

Welles’ most conventional (and profitable) film, a for-hire job. He plays an ex-Nazi posing as a professor in a small New England town, where he is tracked by Edward G. Robinson’s Nazi hunter

6. OTHELLO (1953)

Under stressful filming conditions that are the stuff of legend, Welles took four years to complete this version of the Shakespeare tragedy that, as is typical with him,  seems to provide more insight into Welles himself than Othello

5. THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1948)

Allowed to direct it only through the intercession of his then-wife Rita Hayworth, who stars in the film, this is a complete and glorious mess that was eventually taken away from him by the studio. Worth seeing for the concluding hall-of-mirrors sequence, one of the most phenomenal set-pieces ever captured on film

4. THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942)

Welles’ second film, and the beginning of his epic decline in Hollywood. Butchered by RKO and released hurriedly while Welles was out of the country, the miracle of Ambersons is that it’s still startling and beautiful despite the meddling. And if you stumble across that missing hour of footage from the film, the Holy Grail of film preservationists, please give me a call

3. CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (1966)

Welles first played Falstaff, Shakespeare’s portrait of humanity in all its messy glory, on stage when he was only 24 years old. This conflation of several Shakespeare plays puts Falstaff at the center of the story, and it’s clear that this lovable embodiment of decay was the role Welles was born to play. It is his favorite among his own films

2. TOUCH OF EVIL (1958)

The happiest of happy accidents. Hired at first just as an actor, Welles took over the film when co-star Charlton Heston essentially called the producer an idiot for not letting Welles direct as well. Welles rewrote the script and created this gothic, twisted baroque masterpiece about the goings-on in a Mexican border town. And oh, that often-imitated but never-duplicated opening sequence…

1. CITIZEN KANE (1941)

The one and only. If you’ve never seen it, try to approach it without the burden of expectations that necessarily accompany a work often called the Greatest Film Ever Made, and enjoy it for its own wonderful sake. If you’ve seen it many times, watch it again for all the many new things this miraculous work seems to reveal with each new viewing. My personal favorite: Bernstein talking about the girl with a parasol on the Jersey City ferry back in 1896…

Josh Cabat

Josh Cabat

Josh Cabat is the Chair of English for the Roslyn Public Schools, and a teacher of English and Film Studies for over three decades. His latest endeavor is a podcast on Film History called Vintage Sand, which is available for free download on iTunes and SoundCloud. Click on Josh's image or check it out at Vintagesand.com.

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