Orson Welles would have been 100 this month. When he died in 1985, aged 70, the wonder was that he had lasted so long. His bulk was so immense, his productivity so prodigious in so many areas, his temperament so exorbitant, that he seemed to have been part of the landscape for ever. Never was ruined greatness so visible. The other great auteurs maudits of this century, Abel Gance and D.W. Griffith, disappeared into silence and oblivion. Eisenstein simply died young. Not Welles. Every time he trundled insincerely through some commercial for cheap liquor (he, the great bon viveur; he, for whom the very word commercial was an insult when applied to film), he sent a pang through the world’s heart.
Pity, for the man who made Citizen Kane, three other masterpieces including the peerless Chimes at Midnight, and at least two lesser but exquisite short films? Pity, for the man who revolutionised radio, whose theatre productions have never been rivalled for audacity and innovation, whose acting performances in the few good films he made for other directors (The Third Man, Compulsion) will never be forgotten? Yes, pity for what might have been: the very thing that haunted Welles himself.