Orson Welles is possibly the most iconic film personality of all time, and you could argue that he surpasses the likes of Marlon Brando, Laurence Olivier and even perhaps Alfred Hitchcock in terms of significant cinematic legacy.
His most famous mark on the movie industry was undoubtedly the 1941 classic Citizen Kane. The film is consistently hailed as one of the most significant pieces of cinema ever made, and its style, themes and narrative have been both explored and parodied many times over the years.
The other feature films Welles helmed and starred in were also classics. The Magnificent Ambersons, The Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil, The Trial, the list is endless. In terms of western auteurs, aside from Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick, no one has consistently contributed to the discipline of cinema with each release in the way that Welles did.
As a director, he cultivated a distinctive directorial style. It featured layered, nonlinear narrative formats, the use of chiaroscuro lighting, off-kilter camera angles, sound techniques he borrowed from his radio career, deep focus shots and long takes. Due to his artistic vision, many have hailed him as “the ultimate auteur”. In short, never has anyone summed up the discipline of cinema quite as Orson Welles did.
There will never be anyone else whose life reads like a chronicle of the development of the art form. In fact, we could discuss for hours just how critical Orson Welles was to the development of modern cinema. But that would not be a balanced discussion, and for the purpose of the piece, we want to concentrate on Orson Welles, the actor. Again, never has there been anyone who was so talented at both directing and acting. Aside from film, he was also an astute theatre performer and even a magician. During the Second World War, he entertained American troops with his variety shows — there was really nothing he couldn’t do.
Versatility was the name of his game, and over his career, Welles showed that there was nothing he wasn’t prepared to attempt. He even helmed the cult UK show Orson Welles Great Mysteries between 1973 and ’74, an example of just how willing to try his hand at anything he was. During the early years of the hit crime drama Magnum, P.I., Welles provided the voice for the unseen playboy and writer, Robin Masters. Then, in 1986 Welles gave us his final role before departing for the next life. Although a somewhat surprising outing, even by Welles’ standards, his role still carried that brilliant and commanding voice that we all know so well. Welles’ final outing came as Unicron, a sentient planet that consumes other worlds in the cult classic, The Transformers: The Movie.
Animated, dark and very ’80s, the film featured the likes of Eric Idle, Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy and even Scatman Crothers. Another interesting facet of the film is the soundtrack, which features tracks from ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic and the iconic theme tune by Lion. The film is noted for its script and depth, unlike the terrible Michael Bay live-action franchise, which was largely comprised of over the top action sequences. The script gave room to its cast and allowed them to do what they did best, act, even if it was voice acting.
Although to many it might seem a strange way to bow out for Welles, it wasn’t. He lived and breathed cinema, and his casting as Unicron was nothing short of perfect. The sinister character of the script was brought to life by the ominous, deep register of his voice and Shakespearean grasp of elocution.
Watch Orson Welles play the dastardly Unicron below.