Let's go back (How far back? Way back!) to the original superhero movie, The Batman (1946, Orson Welles). Long considered to be a minor footnote to Welles' filmography, the resurgence of the superhero movie (and the unprecedented critical and financial success of The Dark Knight) has brought new attention to this now-classic from fanboys and critics alike.
Mark Millar's now-famous column for Comic Book Resources brought some fascinating backstory on the production to light. Welles intended an all-star cast: Basil Rathbone as the Joker, James Cagney as the Riddler, George Raft as Two-Face and Marlene Dietrich as Catwoman. When budget constraints and studio politics forced Welles to scratch that plan, he went back to his Mercury Theater roots. But what a stroke of luck that turned out to be! Price's Joker and Conried's Riddler would set the standard for the (defanged) 60s TV show interpretations, and Paul Stewart's brief turn as Harvey Dent (a.k.a. "Two-Face") is both fearsome and heartbreaking, and one of the unheralded actor's best performances.
Yet it's Welles, as both actor and director, that ultimately dominates. Welles is characteristically feisty, and his alienating (and sometimes grating) mise-en-scene and editing would anticipate his 1962 adaptation of The Trial. Much like Oedipus and the murder mystery tale, Welles' superhero film simultaneously invents the genre and turns it on its head.
Please join me in watching and live-tweeting what James Agee called "...a confounding and at-times unpleasant psychological drama, hidden under the mask of a children's adventure serial..."
This live-tweet will use the hashtag #owb.
Written and Directed by Orson Welles
Produced by S.P. Eagle
Cinematography by Russell Metty
Orson Welles as Bruce Wayne/Batman
Joseph Cotten as Commissioner James Gordon
Vincent Price as The Joker
Hans Conried as The Riddler
Paul Stewart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face
Dolores del Rio as Catwoman