Review by Trylon hall of mirrors designer Thorn Chen

Or how about we try “When you give a picnic, it’s a picnic”? The Lady from Shanghai is as surreal as one-liners like these make it sound. Welles is at his strangest and his most brilliant when spins this hallucinatory noir tale about a straight-shooting Irish sailor who gets himself into an indecipherable web of seduction, murder, and deceit. Rita Hayworth plays the femme fatale, Elsa Bannister, who Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles) spots riding a carriage in Central Park. He is hooked immediately and offers her his last cigarette, but she wraps it up and puts it in her bag saying that she doesn’t smoke. After he improbably fights off a band of ruffians bent on kidnapping her, he picks up her bag and smokes his own cigarette. There’s a gun in her bag. He asks her why she didn’t use it. She replies, “I meant for you to find it.” Already, nothing is making any sense. There’s a plot in the air, but O’Hara can’t stop himself. Roped into working on a yacht with Elsa and her husband Arthur (Everett Sloane), a criminal lawyer he detests, Michael meets George Grisby (Glenn Anders), an even more detestable character who offers him five thousand dollars to murder himself, George Grisby. Something is fishy, but the plot keeps unraveling, leading to a furtive meeting in an aquarium and a hall of mirrors shootout in a Chinatown amusement park. Oh, did I mention that the film has a shootout in a hall of mirrors?

Apparently, Welles was not given final cut privileges over The Lady from Shanghai, a possible explanation for the film’s many incongruences. The movie doesn’t lose very much from this, however, since its entire narrative system is built on incongruities. Aside from Michael O’Hara, all the characters seem as if they’ve been cut out from another movie and plopped in this one, their severe outlines cutting sharply against the background. The effect is helped along by the abundant use of process shots that make the characters look like they were pasted on top of stock footage from exotic locales. Then there are the characters themselves. Elsa is a noir heroine with a checkered past, who masterfully gushes with emotion, or tears, when she needs to, but calculates every drop (“I’m not who you think I am, I just try to be”). Arthur is the archetype of an unscrupulous lawyer, who hires dozens of servants to throw a picnic for his wife on the Western coast of Mexico (“when you give a picnic, it’s a picnic,” says Grisby). Welles takes special glee in depicting Grisby as a loathsome wretch, who we catch many times peeping at Elsa with a spyglass, and whose face is always shown glistening in sweat. Overall, it is a film that wants us to feel how strange cinema, and as extension the world, can really be, especially when it is the world of rich scheming lawyers and their unhappy wives. Or maybe, as another interpretation might have it, it’s just the interior world of Michael’s infatuation with Elsa, as Welles relays in his Beckett-esque imitation of a noir voiceover at the film’s start: “If I’d known where it would end, I would’ve never let anything start… If I had been in my right mind, that is… Once I’d seen her, I was not in my right mind for quite some time.” – Thorn Chen

THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI screens Friday and Saturday, May 29 and 30, at 7:00 and 9:00, and Sunday, June 1 at 5:00 and 7:00.  Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.


The shortest and bloodiest of Shakespeare’s plays got the Hollywood treatment a number of times over the years, but Macbeth never so closely resembled a horror film as it does in this 1948 production. Welles, wild-eyed and brooding, is brilliant as the nobleman told by three witches that he is destined — or perhaps doomed — to become king.

The film’s low budget is obvious but Welles works around his financial limitations cleverly; the expressionist sets and arch camera angles are unsettling (it’s never entirely clear at any point whether we’re indoors or outdoors), and all the walls we see are of barren stone that might be within an ancient castle or out against a looming cliff wall. The eerie sound design and nightmarish visuals evoke the barren, empty world that Macbeth has created for himself.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that an arty, surreal experiment like this would crash and burn at the box offices of 1948. But the film’s reputation has grown over the years, and it’s regarded today as one of the best screen versions of any Shakespeare play.

Jeanette Nolan had played Lady Macbeth on the stage countless times, and Welles has some of his old Mercury players on hand for this one, including Erskine Sanford and William Alland. — Michael Popham

MACBETH screens at the Trylon on Monday and Tuesday, May 25 and 26 at 7:00 and 9:00. Advance tickets are available, and you can purchase them here.


Review by Trylon chief of police David Berglund

So much is made of the famed tracking shot that opens Touch of Evil that it is tempting to think it is remembered because of this incredible opening salvo. Yet, taken on its own the shot is largely a gimmick – three and a half minutes of highly choreographed unbroken movement that ends with a bang. It mustn’t be forgotten that there is still a whole movie that follows this sequence and this brief prologue works primarily to set an ominous tone for the rest of the film. No, this film is remembered not because of a single take, but because of how this take is married to the story that follows; a taut and thrilling suspense that unflinchingly weaves its way through the worst of humanity.

Many critics mark Touch of Evil as the closing film of the noir era. Despite it certainly not being the last great noir, this designation is in many ways fitting. The accolade resulted partly due to its 1958 release coinciding with the sunset of the Hayes code, and the film’s bleak sensibility indeed helped kick off a new era of anti-heroes and criminal ambiguity. Indeed, under the Hayes code, by rule good guys won and bad guys faced justice, but Welles here was less concerned with who won and lost than how people act out in desperate situations. In focusing on his characters first despite their places in a convoluted tale of corruption and double-crossing, he produced an affecting masterwork in an oeuvre filled with them.

Evil tells the story of Miguel “Mike” Vargas (Heston), a principled Mexican official running a murder investigation parallel to his American counterparts, hardened old-timer Captain Hank Quinlan (Welles) and his longtime partner Pete Menzies (Josh Calleia). With the support of his devoted wife Susie (Janet Leigh), the fresh-faced Vargas is determined to play by the rules while Quinlan is prone to follow hunches and cut corners to bring a conviction. As such, these two figures clash and the resulting collateral damage is shocking and horrific.

Welles never allowed himself to be more ugly than in his turn as Quinlan. This figure is an unkempt, clumsy, gluttonous, and vindictive drunk with nary a redeeming quality. Yet, there is a sense that he was once a good intentioned cop that through some fated path disintegrated into his present state. This descent in many ways mirrors Welles own life, a life marked by an initial idealistic ambition later turned sour.

But like Quinlan, Welles nevertheless sought to do his job and produce results, utilizing tactics that were rarely orthodox and many times questionable. In always refusing to surrender artistic control until it was wrested from him, he was relegated to find new avenues for his personal projects, many times finding dubious funding sources. By the time Universal gifted him this film, the weariness of operating on his own terms was evident.

Now, Welles was not nearly as corrupt as Quinlan, but he was as jaded. His life, like Quinlan’s, taught him that playing by the rules meant falling short of his own lofty standards. One can’t help but wonder if Welles drew upon his professional frustrations and slights in realizing this iconic villain. The fact that studio heads chopped even this film makes you think any cynicism he breathed into this role was likely justified. — David Berglund

David Berglund is an ardent film buff and loyal Trylon volunteer. When inspiration strikes, he collaborates with his wife Chelsea to write film reviews at and local theater reviews at

TOUCH OF EVIL screens Friday and Saturday, May 22 and 23 at 7:00 and 9:00, and Sunday, May 24 at 5:00 and 7:00 at the Trylon.  Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.


Review by Trylon volunteer David Berglund

From the moment of his film debut, it was clear that Orson Welles had an innate understanding of the power of cinema and a firm grasp of its unique language. His films were never conventional, instead drawing power from visual risks and unmatched innovation. He was as much concerned with film form as any filmmaker, and while his works maintain some thematic continuity (men searching for meaning, familial distrust, corrupted power), it is best to think of him first as an important directorial technician and second as an authorial voice. Perhaps this is why throughout his career, he as an established artistic titan regularly undertook the task of realizing pulp crime stories; these stories were never as interesting as how they were told. The truth is that Welles never wanted to change the world with his art – he simply wanted to enjoy its quirks while he could.

This is never more clear than in his “documentary” masterwork F for Fake, which by overtly exploring the ways film can manipulate audiences serves as a perfect marriage of his formal technique and parallel personal contemplations. Ostensibly an exploration of the life of art forger Elmyr de Hory, the film readily comes unhinged from traditional storytelling and moves in a stream of consciousness that slyly prods the sanctity of high art and the importance of truth. With F for Fake, Welles was never more sardonic, nor more candid. There is a clear sense he achieves a sort of personal catharsis in so publicly airing his grievances and thumbing his nose at an establishment he found particularly unwelcoming. It is ironic that in this film, a film demonstrating how film can confuse reality, we find our clearest portrait of Welles as a man.

That is not to say the film is somber or dull. Heavens, no. One thing Welles always made sure to do was entertain, and his film is always engaging, brimming with the dry, intelligent wit that made him so beloved. Yes, it is self-indulgent and digressive, but who better to hear ramble on than the grandiose figure of the great Orson Welles? He was here once again years ahead of his time, asserting his own voice as the film’s main focus and testing both his audience and the limits of film construction at every turn. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, this would quickly become tedious, but with Welles, it is both a joy and a revelation. — David Berglund

David Berglund is an ardent film buff and loyal Trylon volunteer. When inspiration strikes, he collaborates with his wife Chelsea to write film reviews at and local theater reviews at

 F FOR FAKE screens Monday and Tuesday, May 18 and 19, at 7:00 and 9:00 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.


After the spectacular flame-out of his RKO contract, Orson Welles had acquired a reputation — somewhat unfairly, it must be said — as a director whose films  ran wildly over budget before tanking at the box office.  As if that weren’t bad enough, his unfinished project It’s All True raised further suspicions that he’d “gone bad” as a director — that left to his own devices he’d disappear into the jungle like Colonel Kurtz, taking the studio’s money with him and delivering nothing in return.

So it was four years before he got another chance in the director’s chair, and this time he was determined to show Hollywood that he could deliver a profitable film on time and on budget. The movie in question was The Stranger, about an escaped Nazi war criminal named Franz Kindler (Welles) who is hiding in plain sight in a peaceful Connecticut town, posing as history professor Charles Rankin. Nazi hunter Wilson (Edward G. Robinson), who has arrived in town pretending to be an antique dealer, suspects Rankin is the man he seeks, but can’t prove it, and a deadly game of cat-and-mouse ensues. Caught between them is Rankin’s fiancee, Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), the daughter of a Supreme Court justice.

Welles had originally wanted Agnes Moorhead to play the part of Wilson (and what a fascinating movie that would have made) but producer Sam Spiegel insisted on Edward G. Robinson instead. Spiegel also made clear that the film couldn’t go over budget — Welles himself would have to pay for any cost overruns out of his own pocket.

The resulting film is the most conventional of Welles’ career, a fast-paced thriller that was indeed delivered on time and on budget, and which was a solid moneymaker at the box office.  For all its mainstream appeal, however, Welles’ hand is unmistakable – his distinctive visual style is evident, and there’s an emphasis on dreams and the subconscious that’s far more sophisticated than most films of the time. — Michael Popham

THE STRANGER screens Friday and Saturday, May 15 and 16 at 7:00 and 9:15, and Sunday, May 17 at 5:00 and 7:15. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.