Top 5 Orson Welles Directed Films of All-Time

I must preface this list by stating that it is not as complete as it could be. I was unable to get my hands on DVD copies of his films The Magnificent Ambersons or Chimes at Midnight, two films that are regarded by many to be among his best. As it is, neither of the two films were available at my primary sources for films – Netflix or the public library. Curiously enough, both sources had the 2002 TV remake of The Magnificent Ambersons.

Judging by the poll results so far, this may be one of the few “greatest of all-time lists” where you readers and I largely agree. This list only consists of 5 movies, rather than the usually 10 because of Welles limited body of work. I encourage comments about any of my selections.

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5) The Tragedy of Othello (1952)

I like Welles’ interpretation of the tragic tale of the Moor of Venice more than I liked his earlier “Voo-doo Macbeth” effort. In one of the shortest versions of the play I have ever seen, Welles does a fantastic job of capturing the madness of the man. His performance at the beginning is very soft, which makes his madness at the end even more startling. The film is shot and lit to emphasize the stark black and white contrasts, which (deliberately or not) makes race a central focus of the play. He also directs the rest of the acting ensemble to some brilliant performances, specifically Micheál MacLiammóir in the role of the evil and contemplative Iago.

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4) The Stranger (1946)

Despite the fact that this was one of Welles’ least favorite films to make, it had fantastic results. Welles and Edward G. Robinson make the perfect paradoxical opponents in a cat and mouse game to find a former Nazi. The film is Welles’ attempt to make a suspense film that audiences will love. In other words, he attempted to dumb it down. Despite his best attempts, you still can’t deny Welles’ auteur signature in the tracking shots, deep focus, and symbolism of the ever-present clock-tower. (My Full Review)

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3) F for Fake (1973)

This films is Welles biggest departure from style (except maybe when he voiced Unicron). This non-fiction film has Welles looking into the history of fakery in the art world, specifically as it pertains to Elmyr de Hory, the greatest art forger in the 20th Century. Welles then turns the camera on himself and discusses his past as a fake, particularly with his “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast and the lies he made up for Citizen Kane. Categorized as a documentary, it’s more of a personal essay on the validity of criticism and the authenticity of art. It also gives us one of the most detailed glimpses into Welles’ personality. (My Full Review)

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2) Touch of Evil (1958)

The opening sequence of Touch of Evil may be one of the most brilliant, suspenseful pieces of filmmaking ever produced. And the rest of the film doesn’t disappoint as Welles’ thriller about corrupt policemen acts as a brilliant addition to the film noir genre. The sound and editing give a harsh look at the story and provide pieces that help to solve the mystery. The highlight of the film may be the supporting turn by Marlene Dietrich and her interactions with Welles’ corrupt Captain Hank Quinlan. Dietrich’s former prostitute character is the only one who sees Hank Quinlan’s darker side. That is, until the film’s thrilling conclusion.

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1) Citizen Kane (1941)

Welles’ masterpiece gets better with each successive viewing. There are a thousand discoveries to be had in every frame as the cinematography, editing, lighting, and sound all come together to create one of the most complex achievements of all-time. However, even if you ignore the technical aspects of the film, it is a narrative masterpiece. It’s unordered telling of the story from differing perspectives was great as the audience gets to know just a bit more about the man and his empire than any of the characters on screen. This film deserves to be discovered. (My Full Review)

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  • Owen

    Really? Citizen Kane #1? You really went out on a limb there Alex :)

  • Haha, I’m surprised the world is not outraged.

  • G1000

    I’d never even heard of “The Stranger” until just recently. Sounds interesting.

  • Violet

    I’ve loved “The Magnificent Ambersons” since the first time I saw it years ago and I’m sad it didn’t make your list. It is hard to find but TMC shows it alot. When A&E made the TV version people were outraged and I don’t know anyone movie lovers who’ve watched it.

  • Brandon Cooley

    I loved the theme in Citizen Kane and the way Orson Welles disproved the “American Dream” that so many of us think about.

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