Sinister Cinema: Orson

orson in paree

I believe it was sometime in 2010 or so when Matthew Asprey — more recently writing under the longer handle of Matthew Asprey Gear — hoofed These Mean Streets on the Hammett tour. He mentioned the moment in a book of Jack London’s San Francisco stories he assembled. Since then he’s been plugging on various things, notably the magazine Contrappasso, which I’ve mentioned a few times.

But with his book of film criticism on Orson Welles and cities, I think Matthew has jumped into deeper and wider waters. From his home base in Sydney he hit film and paper archives in Munich, Glasgow and Buenos Aires. “I even got to hold his passports.”

For me, one of his most interesting discoveries was made in the Lilly Library in Indiana, and went into the chapter about Welles and San Francisco — which is to say the chapter mostly about the uber noir classic The Lady from Shanghai.

Not long before Welles made Shanghai, he was toying with a movie based on Michael Fessier’s 1934 novel Fully Dressed and in His Right Mind. Matthew notes the book is set in San Francisco and that Welles envisioned it as “a thriller about a cannibalistic killer with supernatural powers who first murders a newspaper editor and then stalks the hero through San Francisco.”

Use of this city would have been underscored with a definitive scene: “There’s a nice sketch of a sequence on a cable car that would have used multiple reflections” — anticipating the hall of mirrors sequence from Shanghai.

What can I say? If Welles had shot Fully Dressed, he probably wouldn’t have made Shanghai. You know me, I love this stuff — pondering the coulda/wouldas. With someone like Welles, with so many classics, any project he considered is worth some rumination, especially one as intriguing as Fully Dressed. 

Matthew tells me he isn’t the first Welles scholar to undercover the info, that nod goes to Bret Wood in his 1990 Bio-Bibliography of Welles — but “Wood didn’t connect the Welles script to the novel it was based on.” Yeah, the Fessier connection is kind of important.

And he gives me another tidbit for Frisco fans: one episode of an early unfinished film would have had one sequence set in San Francisco, that sequence scripted by none other than John Fante.

If interested, you can grab copies off Amazon, Amazon U.K., B&N, etc. & etc.

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