Interesting Radio

The Orson Welles Radio Tapes

Orson Welles was the multi-talented polymath who was a pioneering figure in twentieth century theatre and film.

2015 marks the centenary of his birth in Kenosha, Wisconsin and various celebrations have been taking place across the world at festivals and cinema societies.

He is still best known for co-writing and directing Citizen Kane (1941), a landmark in film history, but also made astonishingly audacious stage productions, such as a production of Macbeth in Harlem with an all black cast.

However, it was on radio where he reached national attention in 1938 with his infamous adaptation of H.G. Wells’s novel ‘The War of the Worlds’, which was so convincing it caused widespread panic.

His Mercury Theatre group not only produced acclaimed work on stage but also on the airwaves from 1938-40 and again in 1946, with a stock company of actors including Agnes Moorehead, Joseph Cotten, Ray Collins and Helen Hayes.

Courtesy of the Internet Archive site, here is a selection of his work, which includes literary classics, especially Shakespeare, but also dramas by Thornton Wilder and Noel Coward.


> Shakespeare

The Bard was a pivotal figure in Welles’ career and various abridged productions Welles produced included Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, Richard III and King Lear.


> Mercury Theater Productions in 1938

If Welles was sadly denied creative control for most of his film career, his radio work was a different story. In 1938 he was given full reign in various adaptations of literary classics, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Treasure Island, and The Count of Monte Cristo. The music was by Benard Herrmann, a future collaborator on Citizen Kane.


> Radio Almanac Pt. 1

A mix of comedy, trivia, music and drama, with Agnes Moorehead as president of “the Orson Welles Swoon Club”. Guests include Nat King Cole and Kid Ory.


> Radio Almanac Pt. 2

Before The War of the Worlds made him (in)famous, the 22 year-old prodigy funded his theatrical productions with radio work, including a year playing avenging crimefighter ‘The Shadow’.


> Wartime Broadcasts

A collection of shows made during World War II, including the liberation of Paris, the Fifth War Loan Drive and
GI Journal. A fascinating snapshot of the time, it shows a more serious side to Welles, as well as illuminating a key episode of twentieth century.


> Commentaries

Long before Rupert Murdoch (a modern day Charles Foster Kane) owned the New York Post, Welles was a columnist on the paper and also had a weekly political radio broadcast, covering such topics as the atomic bomb tests, and the blinding of war veteran Isaac Woodard.


> The Bogdanovich Interviews

Director Peter Bogdanovich became a friend of Welles and conducted a series of audio interviews between 1969 and 1970. They discuss his life and career, including the success of Citizen Kane (1941) and later films such as The Lady from Shanghai (1947), Touch of Evil (1958), and Chimes at Midnight (1960). In total this runs to about 4 hours, but is fascinating if you are interested in the filmmaking techniques Welles pioneered and the general arc of his career.


> The Lost Tapes of Orson Welles (BBC World Service Documentary)

Presented by Christopher Frayling, this 2014 documentary was broadcast on the BBC World Service. It explores audio of the conversations Welles had with his friend Henry Jaglom from 1983-85 and explores his life and career. Contributors include Welles biographer Simon Callow and film writer Peter Biskind.


> Find more about Orson Welles at Wikipedia
> WellesNet – A great resource for fans and aficionados


The Orson Welles Shakespeare Collection

Audio of Orson Welles performing Shakespeare on the radio between 1936 and 1946 has surfaced online.

Before he went on to make Citizen Kane (1941), Welles made a name for himself on radio with various broadcasts, including his infamous version of War of the Worlds in 1938.

Now thanks to the Internet Archive, have a listen to or download Welles perform in Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, Richard II and King Lear.

You can download them as MP3 files by clicking on the links below:

You can also listen to his 1 hour version of Dracula by clicking here.

Orson Welles at Wikipedia
The Mercury Theater


The Final Days of Orson Welles

In the final week of his life Orson Welles gave two interviews in which he reflected on his career and old age.

On October 3rd 1985, he described being able to make Citizen Kane (1941) as “a total piece of luck”, how he “always hated Hollywood”, why he couldn’t compromise and that he wanted to be remembered as “a good guy, rather than a difficult genius”:

Then on October 10th, he gave what would be his final interview on The Merv Griffin Show, where the pair talked about old age, Rita Hayworth, the funeral of Harry Cohn, Marlene Dietrich, soaps and his early career:

He died hours after the taping of the show and Entertainment Tonight did this obituary piece:

Rona Barrett mentioned that his last filmed piece was an intro for a special black and white episode of Moonlighting, which was dedicated to him:

Strangely he died on the same day as Yul Brynner.

> Find out more about Orson Welles at MUBi and Wikipedia
> The Orson Welles TV Show
> The infamous frozen peas advert outtakes

DVD & Blu-ray

Blu-ray: The Third Man

The Third Man is one of the most enduring films of the post-war era and has now got a worthy Blu-ray release as part of The Studio Canal Collection.

Set in Vienna just after World War II, the story begins when a writer (Joseph Cotten) visits the city to meet his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles), only to be told that he has died.

At Lime’s funeral, Martins meets a British army major (Trevor Howard), Lime’s actress girlfriend (Alida Valli) and slowly begins to discover that Lime was a much more ambiguous character than he realised with with connections to the criminal underworld.

A quick glance at some of the key talents involved with The Third Man is illuminating: Welles and Cotton had worked together on Citizen Kane (1941), Alexander Korda and David O Selznick were two of the most influential producers of that era, director Carol Reed was coming off Odd Man Out (1947) and The Fallen Idol (1948) and the screenplay was written by novelist Graham Greene.

In addition to this glittering line up of talent, we can also note Anton Karas, who provided the indelible zither score, and Robert Krasker, who won an Oscar for his atmospheric cinematography.

The film managed to capture the weary mood and shifting moralities of post-war Europe.

Vienna proved to be a memorable backdrop, with key locations including an elm-lined cemetery, the iconic Ferris wheel and the underground sewers.

In Harry Lime, it also gave us one of great villains in cinema.

Welles is magnetic in the role and although he only has a handful of scenes, his presence dominates the film.

Aside from the marvellous technique and fine performances, it also has a unique power and intelligence courtesy of Greene’s script.

It ponders some of the great moral questions of the twentieth century, most memorably in the Ferris wheel sequence, but does so on a way that is engrossing, funny and ultimately moving.

Reed imbues everything with a sublime melancholy that underscores the personal and political impact of World War II.

A film that repays repeated viewings, it contains many delights ranging from amusing supporting turns by Bernard Lee and Wilfred Hyde-White, a famous scene involving a cat in a darkened doorway and one of the finest closing shots in the history of cinema.

The extras on the disc are generous, the best of which is the 89-minute documentary ‘Shadowing The Third Man’, which revisits the original locations and explores the film in considerable depth, revealing the tensions behind the scenes and why the film continues to resonate with audiences.

Narrated by John Hurt, it also features key contributions from Guy Hamilton (the Assistant Director, who would go on to direct Goldfinger) and Angela Allen (2nd Unit Continuity) as they reminisce about their time working on the production.

The audio commentary also features Simon Callow (author of the best biography of Orson Welles) with Hamilton and Allen as they provide further insights on various sequences in the film, along with more anecdotes on the production.

Also of note is some new supplementary material actually shot in HD, which includes an interactive tour of Vienna, which features locations from the film.

Here are the technical details of the disc, alongside the extras in full:

  • Region B
  • 1080P 1.33:1
  • English, French and German DTS-HD MA 2.0 (mono)
  • German, French, Spanish and Dutch subtitles
  • New or previously unreleased material:
  • Guardian NFT Interview with Joseph Cotten (audio only: 47’13)
  • Guardian NFT Interview with Graham Greene (audio only: 8’05)
  • Audio Commentary by Guy Hamilton (Assistant Director), Angela Allen (2nd Unit Continuity) & Simon Callow (audio only: 1’44)
  • 2 x original trailers (1’46 mins & 2’19) (HD)
  • Stills gallery (2’24) (HD)
  • Interview and performance by zither player Cornelia Mayer (4’44) (HD)
  • The Third Man Interactive Vienna Tour (49’50) (HD)
  • The Third Man on the Radio (an episode of The Lives of Harry Lime: Ticket to Tangiers (1951) written by and performed by Orson Welles) (audio only: 28’45)
  • Shadowing The Third Man –retrospective documentary (1hr29) (SD)
  • US alternative prologue by Joseph Cotton (1’20) (SD)
  • Booklet Essay by Charles Drazin, film historian / biographer – Charles Drazin is a film historian and biographer. His books include Korda: Britain’s Only Movie Mogul, The Finest Years: British Cinema of the 1940s and In Search of The Third Man. He lectures on the cinema at Queen Mary, University of London.

The Third Man is out on Blu-ray on September 13th from Optimum Releasing

> Buy The Third Man on Blu-ray from Amazon UK
> The Third Man at the IMDb
> Find out more about The Third Man at Wikipedia

Amusing Interesting TV

The Orson Welles Show


I want you to imagine that Orson Welles once had a TV chatshow in the late 1970s.

Then I want to you to get a little bit more creative and imagine that the guests on this show include Burt ReynoldsThe Muppets and Angie Dickinson.

But wait. This actually happened.

This is the intro for an unaired pilot Welles did for a chat show back in 1979.

Note how he talks about the possibilities of television like someone evangelising about the Internet circa 1997.

But the really good stuff is yet to come.

Welles introduces Burt Reynolds (“I like him. I like him very much.”) and for some reason they are wearing matching red shirts and jackets (“simple, lousy coincidence!”).

Also note the unconventional format where they ditch the ‘what are you plugging’ banter and dive straight into questions from the audience, some of which prompt interesting answers.

After that we get some contributions from Fozzie Bear, Kermit the Frog and Sam The Eagle, followed by more pontificating from Welles about the nature of television:

To finish off, Welles indulges in some magic with Angie Dickinson, which may remind viewers of his film F For Fake (1973):

> Find out more about Orson Welles at Wikipedia
> The infamous frozen peas commercial featuring Welles