Guy Maddin (who is scheduled to present a screening at MoMA this Tuesday) was
in town last night and able to attend the final Unknown Welles screening,
because it was the closest thing to seeing the sort of “ghost films” that have
inspired so much of his recent work. You could even say the surviving stitched-together
work prints had a spectral look not unlike Maddin’s films. Frustratingly, Orson
Welles never finished his adaptation of Charles Williams’ Dead Reckoning (later filmed by Phillip Noyce as Dead Calm), but you could get a vivid
sense of what it would have been like when the work print of Welles The Deep screened last night at MoMA as
part of the 2015 To Save and Project International Festival of Preservation’s
Unknown Welles sidebar.
Welles fan will be surprised to learn the negative for The Deep is now lost, as are a few scenes here and there. As per
his working method, most of the film audio was supposed to be dubbed in later,
but Welles hit a snag when his star Laurence Harvey passed away. Repeatedly,
Stefan Droessler of the Munich Filmmuseum stressed to the audience this was a
work print, struck from the negative on the cheapest, crummiest film stock available.
Its sole purpose was to serve as the vehicle for Welles’ editing mark-ups, which
he did in a manner guaranteed to maximize confusion for future film restorers.
You have to watch it with an eye for what could have been. Frankly, it is
probably helpful to have seen the extended teaser trailer Welles cut together
that screened with the fragments of The
Dreamers to understand the intended look and flow.
Noyce’s Dead Calm, Welles is more
faithful to Williams’ novel, maintaining the original five character cast. It
starts in much the same fashion, with John and Rae Ingram becalmed in the
middle of the ocean, but not particularly concerned about it. The Saracen still
has auxiliary power, but being newlyweds they rather enjoy the time together in
the middle of nowhere. Much to their surprise a dinghy approaches carrying the
nearly dehydrated Hughie Warriner. He has come from the sinking yacht just now
drifting into view.
tending to the exhausted Warriner, Ingram rows over to the listing Orpheus to
investigate inconsistencies in the shipwreck’s story. Unfortunately, once he
reaches the sinking vessel, Warriner fires up the Saracen’s motor, abducting
his wife and leaving him stranded, but he is not alone though. Warriner’s beleaguered
wife Ruth and the Orpheus’s owner Russ Brewer were huddled below deck. Having
faith in his wife’s survival instincts, Ingram does his best to make the
Orpheus seaworthy. Although Brewer is not particularly helpful, he would also
like to catch up with Warriner, who murdered his wife (under circumstances that
remain rather murky).
Welles still had a lot of tightening up to do on the work print, but you can
see the makings of a nifty thriller in there. It is obviously a crying shame The Deep was never completed and
released, for a number of reasons. It probably would have been regarded as a
rough equivalent of Touch of Evil.
Clearly, it also would have made great strides in establishing Oja Kodar as a
legitimate star in her own right, as Welles so desired. Today, only fans know
her as Welles’ just-what-was-she-again, but The
Deep would have been some sort of name for her. It is safe to say she is as
good as Nicole Kidman in Dead Calm—and
stills of her in her bikini and bright red sun hat would have been super
The Deep also would have
burnished Harvey’s reputation. He was a big name in his day, but now he is
largely remembered for The Manchurian
Candidate, which had been largely withdrawn from public circulation until
its 1988 re-release. Hughie Warriner easily would have been his second iconic
role. Of course, Welles and Jeanne Moureau were no slouches either, as Brewer
and Ruth Warriner, respectively. There is comparatively less audio of Moureau
to extrapolate from, but Welles was deliciously caustic judging both from droll
overdubs and his corresponding facial expressions.
Deep is especially tantalizing
because it is so close to being finished, yet so far. It really could have been
a commercial hit for Welles. Maybe someday it still can. Regardless, it is a
treat to see it, even in a form in which it was never meant to be seen. An absolutely
fascinating viewing experience, The Deep was
a fitting conclusion to this year’s To Save and Project at MoMA.
Labels: Laurence Harvey, Oja Kodar, Orson Welles, To Save and Project '15