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On February 20, 1963, Orson Welles’ adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial hit theaters in New York. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review in April, headlined “The Trial Fascinating as Film Showmanship – Welles Picture Has Strong Arty Appeal,” is below.
Orson Welles’ movie version of Franz Kafka’s modern classic, The Trial, is an abstract film that is likely to be bewildering to many of its spectators, but it is done with such dash and style that it is fascinating even while it is most opaque.
Astor is releasing the French-Italian-German co-production. It should be a strong art house picture and might even make some play in selected regular runs.
Welles did the screenplay, directed and acts in The Trial. Anthony Perkins plays the central character, a young man who finds himself under arrest and then pursues a course of increasing confusion and complexity to find the reason for his arrest and the nature of his crime.
Kafka’s prophetic work foreshadows the contemporary world where the “little man” is increasingly a faceless automaton, unable to assert his individuality. It is the functioning of the system that counts, not the persons who make it up.
Perkins gives one of the best performances of his career in The Trial, aided by an outstanding array of stellar players. Working in a form that has none of the conventional “roadmarks” of the usual drama, Welles must make his characters and scenes exceptionally vivid to keep the audience from retreating in perplexity and rejecting in self-defense.
Jeanne Moreau, Elsa Martinelli and Romy Schneider are the three female leads and each sharply creates a strong character. Others helpful include Akim Tamiroff, Suzanne Flon and Welles himself.
Welles brings some of his usual novelties to his direction, this time playing in long-shot a great deal of the time, and carrying scenes along, without cutting for minutes on end. With Welles, although purpose is not always clear, he is such a showman that the spectator is intrigued anyway. — James Powers, originally published April 25, 1963.
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