FOCUSfilm Entertainment presents
Citizen Welles (The Stranger / The Trial) (1946/1963)
"Just exactly what is it I'm charged with?"- Josef K (Anthony Perkins)
Stars: Orson Welles, Loretta Young, Anthony Perkins
Other Stars: Edward G. Robinson, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider
Director: Orson Welles
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes, mild language, brief nudity)
Run Time: 03h:35m:59s
Release Date: 2001-12-04
DVD ReviewCitizen Welles unites two of Orson Welles' lesser-known directorial efforts, The Stranger and The Trial, both of which fell into the public domain after their original releases in 1946 and 1963, respectively. Like most of Welles' cinematic projects after Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, these films were produced under tight budget and time constraints. But Welles' inventive eye and gift for acting (and the direction of actors) makes each an interesting film in its own way.
The Stranger was Welles' answer to those who claimed he was an out-of-control wunderkind who couldn't make a Hollywood movie. The film is accordingly almost painfully conventional, as it trots out a potboiler of a tale about one Franz Kindler (Welles), a genocidal Nazi war criminal hiding from his past in a small American town. As a teacher at a boys' school, Kindler (now known as Charles Rankin) schemes to marry a judge's daughter and escape justice forever—but when an old associate (Konstantin Shayne) comes to town in search of his leader, investigator Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) suspects the truth. Kindler's crimes escalate as he seeks desperately to cover his tracks, and the action comes to a climax in the town's dignified clock tower.
This is a B-picture, to be sure, but Welles' undeniable talent still makes itself visible. Noir-ish shadows, angles and highlights give the film a sophisticated look, a game of checkers is used as a metaphor for the cat-and-mouse game Kindler plays with the investigator, and a suspense born of our certainty of the truth builds tension slowly and effectively. Welles gives a thoroughly convincing performance as the cocky but desperate Kindler/Rankin, a man who smiles, lies, and self-destructively fails to hide his murderous deeds. Robinson is grumpily effective as the pipe-smoking Wilson, and the gorgeous Loretta Young plays Kindler's na ï ve fiancée simply and honestly. These are cardboard characters, but Welles' eye for performance makes the most of the material's cinematic potential—this is an effective little Hollywood thriller.
Welles' celebrated adaptation of Franz Kafka's nightmare classic The Trial casts Anthony Perkins as Josef K, a man vaguely accused of a crime (never defined to Josef or the audience) and subjected to a bizarre judicial process. Welles began the movie in Yugoslavia with an international cast and money provided by the Salkind family, but when the funding disappeared, he moved the production to Paris and shot the rest of the film as cheaply (though not as quickly) as possible.
Welles' guerrilla filmmaking pays off in unexpected ways—the film has a timeless, placeless quality as characters move from baroque Yugoslavian exteriors into sleek, sterile European interiors. Anthony Perkins is excellent as the put-upon Josef K, a nervous but righteously indignant Everyman who finds himself buffeted about by forces beyond his control, even as he finds himself able to exercise free will in unexpected ways. The film proceeds in a stylized, dreamlike fashion—Josef visits mysterious, powerful men (including Welles as The Advocate) and shares erotic interludes with strange women (including Jeanne Moreau as Miss Burstner and Romy Schneider as Leni). Bizarre characters abound—Akim Tamiroff appears as Bloch, one of the Advocate's clients who waits endlessly in a small cubbyhole, and an artist fends off prepubescent girls who constantly try to break into his studio. It's a world where everything is broken but nobody seems to notice—cops who overstep their bounds are severely punished when Josef complains, and a monolithic computer hums and rattles but does nothing useful.
Welles the director is in top visual form here, using deep perspective and a highly active camera, with long takes and tracking shots that emphasize Josef K's alienation and confusion. The story's absurd flow has an illogical logic to it that bears repeated viewings, and The Trial deserves its cult classic status.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame||1.66:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes||yes|
Image Transfer Review: It is here that our troubles begin. Citizen Welles' keepcase copy promises "both feature films fully restored," but the claim badly overstates the case. What FOCUSFilm and Intermission Productions have done is this—starting with poor-quality, grainy videotape masters, they've cleaned up visible damage, adjusted the contrast and black level, and made the films look like mediocre-quality videotape. I can't emphasize this enough—red/blue false-color aliasing, softness and edge enhancement remain abundant, and it's obvious that a film source was not used as the original. The Stranger is in 30-fps video format; The Trial has been converted to a 24-fps film rate, but the de-interlacing process is imperfect and produces heavy combing in one scene. The Stranger retains its original 1.33:1 theatrical full-frame format; The Trial is presented in a nonanamorphic letterboxed 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio, mislabeled as 1.85:1 on the disc and keepcase. I suspect that good-quality source prints of these films are difficult to come by, and that the studio worked with what it had on hand—but the fact remains that both of these DVD's look like public-domain videotapes. Improved, but hardly restored in the conventional sense.
Image Transfer Grade: D-
Audio Transfer Review: Both films have been "remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1," though individual sound stems were obviously not available for the electronic re-engineering. The Stranger makes very little use of the wider soundstage, and basically sounds like a monaural center channel with a bit of bass; the four additional channels remain silent. The Trial (remixed at Chace Digital) opens up the soundtrack significantly, with broader imaging across the front and a few key effects in the surround channels. Both tracks still sound dated; despite some ProTools-based cleanup of pops and hisses, a fair amount of crackle and clipping remains, and dynamic and frequency range are limited. The result is likely to please no one—purists will bemoan the lack of a true monaural soundtrack, while 5.1 enthusiasts will also be disappointed—but the films sound cleaner than they have in a while. Not a full-blown audio restoration, but a credible improvement.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by film critic and author Jeffrey Lyons
Packaging: generic plastic two-disc keepc
Layers Switch: 01h:18m:56s
- Photo Galleries
- Hearts of Age
A Photo Gallery and a Theatrical Trailer accompanies each film, providing some valuable historical memorabilia and publicity stills. The trailer for The Stranger is great vintage fun, filled with melodramatic music and hyperbolic exclamatory text overlays; the two-minute trailer apparently dates from a re-release of the film. The Trial is promoted in more sophisticated style, listing the stars' names and presenting dramatic clips from the film, while doing its best to sidestep the bizarre nature of the story itself.
Film critic and author Jeffrey Lyons contributes two running commentary tracks. Lyons was not directly involved with either project, but he has done his research and does a good job of documenting who's who and the history of each film's production. His comments are sparse and not terribly insightful—he's often reduced to "look at this!" references when there isn't much going on—but he's enthusiastic enough, particularly where The Trial is concerned. Lyons also provides some intriguing information on long-lost deleted scenes. He's a lot more impressed with the transfer than I am, though, and he makes some odd mistakes on details, as though he was given insufficient time to prepare before recording. Both of the commentary tracks are informative, but not very rich or deep.
A 19-minute Documentary begins with an audio essay by film scholar Richard France, who discusses both films briefly over a series of clips and still photographs. The second half of the documentary discusses the film's digital restoration process, demonstrating the difference between the original video source and the improved (but still marginal) "restored" version. Unfortunately, the behind-the-scenes footage only makes the audiovisual shortcomings of this release more obvious—the process comes off as casual and largely automated, using off-the-shelf processing packages like ProTools and Revival.
The most valuable inclusion here is Hearts of Age, an early 6-minute effort directed by Welles as a teenager in 1934. Jeffrey Lyons contributes commentary over the silent and fairly incoherent film; the source print is scratchy and damaged, but Welles' eye for light and shadow is already making itself apparent, as is his delight in adopting a character. This fascinating little inclusion raises this disc's Extras grade significantly.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsFOCUSFilm's Citizen Welles features two of the great director's lesser-known works. Unfortunately, the "restored" transfer is still of marginal quality, though there are some enlightening extras in the two-disc set. An important set for Welles fans, but don't expect Citizen Kane.
Dale Dobson 2002-01-11