best film:   Citizen Kane is a cinematic sonic boom of artistic style – it is jarring how different it looks than every other film before it and nearly every film since. But, it is also one of cinema’s finest character studies with twenty-six (26) year old wunderkind Orson Welles as not only the director – but the lead actor playing Kane himself. The film is so clearly worthy of its lofty reputation and the praise bestowed upon it. It is an aesthetic showpiece that never gets old or relents. That said, Welles is an all-time great auteur and Kane is not the only masterpiece of his own that he acted in – so this is a crowded category as he appears in nine (9) of his own films. There is a lot to choose from in the Welles cannon here (Touch of Evil chief amongst them – he does the voice over narration for The Magnificent Ambersons but does not appear in the film) and then you have Carol Reed’s The Third Man to add to the mix. Touch of Evil and The Third Man are easy top 100 of all-time films, so this is a category of overwhelming strength for Welles, but the answer is still Citizen Kane.


Welles loved playing older (he is just 26 years old here in 1941) – from Kane to Touch of Evil to Chimes at Midnight. This catgory here is of particular strength for Welles as he gives a complex performances in what is currently listed as the fifth (5th) best film of all-time.


best performance:  The best way to watch 1958’s Touch of Evil is to see Orson Welles’ Police Captain Hank Quinlan as the main character. If there is a nit to pick with this gargantuan masterpiece, it is that the film needs more Welles’ and Marlene Dietrich and less Charlton Heston and poor Janet Leigh stuck at the motel. The Third Man (1949) may be Welles’ second-best performance, it is close with Citizen Kane (1941). On a per-minute basis his work as Harry Lime is his best – but that is a less than ten (10) minute performance. Still, Welles’ Lime is talked about the entire movie leading up to his arrival, he shows up, lights the screen on fire, and then leaves. It is spectacular. In Kane, Welles essentially plays two roles: the ambitious and cocky (and charming as hell) young upstart – and then in the ladder parts of the film the soured and vicious older man (Welles relishing playing older again). It is a bold performance worthy of applauding even if it does not land as solidly as his work as the heavy in either Touch of Evil or The Third Man.


as far as acting goes – only Marlene Dietrich, in her few minutes on screen, can swim as fast as Welles in Touch of Evil – everyone else is left by the wayside


stylistic innovations/traits:  Orson Welles gives one of the best performances of the year in three of the best one hundred (100) films of all-time (Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, The Third Man). In fact, all three (3) landed in the top forty-two (42) on the last update of the best 500 films of all-time. Throw in Welles’ work in Chimes at Midnight and that is an unblemished top four (4) Mount Rushmore. There is not a lot after that and Welles is spotty at best as an actor in the other five films he directs and outside of Carol Reed’s masterpiece, there is nothing of note really in the films where Welles acts for other directors (he often looked disinterested frankly). Someone else should there instead of him as Michael O’Hara in The Lady from Shanghai and that is a shame because this is another brilliant film. Also, nobody studies Welles’ films for the acting – sorry to say. Even in the films where Welles holds up fine as an actor, the acting is way down the list in order of aspects to be awed by – far behind the inventive camera angles, glorious depth of field mastery, avant-garde splashes of camera movement and other stylistic flourishes – a master auteur of the highest talent and ranking.


Welles as Harry Lime in 1949’s The Third Man from Carol Reed. Welles brief role includes the justifiably iconic “Cuckoo Clock” scene and speech


directors worked with: Orson Welles (9), Carol Reed (1), John Huston (1), Fred Zinnemann (1), Mike Nichols (1)


top five performances:

  1. Touch of Evil
  2. Citizen Kane
  3. The Third Man
  4. Chimes at Midnight
  5. The Stranger


archiveable films

1941- Citizen Kane
1943- Jane Eyre
1946- The Stranger
1947- The Lady from Shanghai
1948- Macbeth
1949- The Third Man
1951- Othello
1955- Mr. Arkadin
1956- Moby Dick
1958- The Long, Hot Summer
1958- Touch of Evil
1962- The Trial
1965- Chimes at Midnight
1966- A Man for All Seasons
1970- Catch-22