Combustible Celluloid Review - The Trial (1962), Orson Welles, based on the novel by Franz Kafka, Orson Welles, Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau, Orson Welles, Romy Schneider, Akim Tamiroff, Elsa Martinelli
Combustible Celluloid
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With: Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau, Orson Welles, Romy Schneider, Akim Tamiroff, Elsa Martinelli
Written by: Orson Welles, based on the novel by Franz Kafka
Directed by: Orson Welles
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: English
Running Time: 118
Date: 12/20/1962

The Trial (1962)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Dreamlike and Ovular

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Orson Welles once called it the best movie he ever made. No, it's not Citizen Kane (1941), it's The Trial (1962), which was released on Milestone's essential DVD in 2000, and now in 2023, comes to the Criterion Collection in a brilliant 4K restoration.

Welles always claimed that Kane was the only film over which he had complete control, but The Trial came close. He had control over every aspect except the music, which to my ears, turned out great.

The Trial is based on Franz Kafka's story of a man named Josef K. who is charged with a crime that is never explained to us. Not even K. knows what he has done.

Early in the film, Perkins wakes up to find dark-suited men in his room. They start poking around accusingly. They pull up a carpet to find four holes where a dentist's chair used to sit. They make a note about the "ovular" shape on the floor. Perkins explains it to them and tries to tell them that there is no such word as "ovular", but his squirming only makes him sound more guilty. And yet the scene is funny.

The great thing about The Trial is, indeed, that it is quite funny, unlike what we might expect from Kafka. This is thanks in part to Anthony Perkins, who plays K. in a nervous comic performance that equals his Norman Bates in Psycho (1960).

According to legend, Perkins would often hear Welles' booming voice from behind the camera, "He's guilty as hell!" Welles himself is on board in a supporting role as a reclusive advocate who reluctantly agrees to take on K's case but doesn't ever help much.

The Trial plays closer to an actual nightmare than just about any other film I've seen. It's filmed with Welles' usual gorgeous deep-focus black and white photography. K. moves from room to room with no seeming connection between the them. Urgent errands fall by the wayside as K. is detained or stalled by more weird characters. Even his escape from the labyrinthine justice building doesn't help much, as escape never brings relief.

The Trial is truly affecting in all the ways that make a successful movie. It stuns your eyes and ears with its imaginative playfulness, and it swirls around inside your brain, taking bits and pieces from your own personal nightmares and sharing them with K. It's one of Welles' greatest achievements and should not be missed.

Criterion's superb Blu-ray offers a gorgeous black-and-white transfer, with rich contrast, and a flawless uncompressed monaural soundtrack. It includes several generous extras, starting with another sophisticated commentary track by professor Joseph McBride, of my old alma matter. There's an 84-minute Q&A, shot in 1981 by cinematographer Gary Graver, that Welles apparently hoped to use to construct a "making of" film, which (like so many of his projects) was never finished.

There's a half-hour episode of "Vive le cinema!," with Welles and Moreau, discussing their careers (in French, with English subtitles). We also get a 24-minute interview with cinematographer Edmond Richard, about his experiences on the film, a trailer, and a liner notes booklet with an essay by author Jonathan Lethem. Highly Recommended.

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