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Blake Pellarin is on the campaign trail to become governor of the state of Missouri. While making a stop in St. Louis, a chance encounter brings his past back to haunt him. Will the truth ruin his chances for office or will he land the "Big Brass Ring"? Written by
Many viewers have raised the issue about how true or false this film is to the original screenplay Orson Welles developed in 1982 with Oja Kodar. Because I wrote the many final drafts of the screenplay directed by George Hickenlooper, I can comment with authority. (Fear not -- I'll avoid spoilers.)
On the surface it is a very free adaptation. Underneath, it is highly faithful... Welles's original script was set in Spain and the Congo. We set ours along the Mississipi and in Cuba. Nevertheless, the characters have kept their original names and essential personalities through the many adaptations George and I devised (whether separately or together) between 1991 and '98.
Welles's tale centered on a Presidential hopeful who escapes his wealthy wife's yacht and pursues a clandestine adventure with his aged political mentor (a part Welles wrote for himself). This grand sage, a fallen Lucifer of American politics, was a candidate for President in his own prime -- until he was outed as a homosexual. In Welles's original, the two old friends engage in a psychological chess match involving a long-vanished woman they both know. In ours, they play an equally rough game over a long-lost brother.
(Welles himself had a troubled brother, Richard, who shadowed him throughout his life. THAT felt like a deeper wound to explore in Welles's wake than the ghost of a missing mistress.)
In both versions, the reunion between the hero and his old mentor sparks a dark merry go round of busy pursuits. An ambitious reporter modeled on Italy's Oriana Fallaci chases Blake and flirts with him, and tries to penetrate the secret of his soul, particularly his connection to the old man. The candidate's wife (jealous of the mentor) schemes and looses a murderous espionage agent on the old man's tail.
Details vary, sometimes wildly, between what Welles conceived and what we executed. My wish in retrospect is that we had played certain cards face up in terms of story secrets. (I won't say which ones here -- no spoilers!) More and more, I'm convinced that Hitchcock was right to keep as few secrets as possible from HIS audience. Less confusing AND more suspenseful!
Were we wrong to take liberties? No. A film must be a living thing. As Welles always advised young filmmakers, "Be Bold!" He is after all the guy who conflated five Shakespeare plays into a single new one centered on the character Falstaff -- CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT.
I'm giving this movie only a "7 out of 10" out of respect to everyone who adds posts to this board yet is NOT one of the filmmakers. (I'm too close to be objective: My heart says, "Give it a ten." Flaws and all, I'm very proud of it.)
I can offer one bit of impartial praise: William Hurt, Nigel Hawthorne, Miranda Richardson, Irene Jacob, Jeff Mayes and Ewan Stewart all give superb, multi layered performances. Welles could have asked for no better group to embody the characters he originated.
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