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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: 12/21/1962

The Trial (1962)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Dreamlike and Ovular

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Orson Welles called it the best movie he ever made. No, it's not Citizen Kane (1941), it's The Trial (1962), which has finally been released on an essential DVD. 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 K. who is charged guilty with a crime that is never explained to us. Not even K. knows what he has done. The great thing about The Trial is that it's not as grim as the original Kafka. In fact, it's quite funny. That's thanks in part to Anthony Perkins who plays K. in a nervous comic performance that equals his Norman Bates in Psycho (1960).

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.

According to legend, Perkins would often hear Welles' booming voice from behind the camera, "He's guilty as hell!" Welles himself is on board as a reclusive lawyer 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 he doesn't seem to be able to escape to anywhere friendly.

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.

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