Brow Beat

Orson Welles’ Last Movie May Finally See the Light of Day

Orson Welles in 1982.

Photo by PHILIPPE BOUCHON/AFP/Getty Images

Great news for movie lovers generally and Orson Welles fans in particular: The director’s storied but unfinished final film, The Other Side of the Wind, may finally be completed and shown next year. As the New York Times reports, the production company Royal Road Entertainment has managed to strike a deal to buy the rights to the movie, with the aim of screening it in California by May 6, 2015, which would have been Welles’ 100th birthday.

Welles spent the last 15 years of his life working on the movie, which stars John Huston and also features Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, and Dennis Hopper in its cast. The film focuses on a veteran director (Huston) who is trying to stage a comeback. According to the Times, the script has its origins in “a tense encounter in 1937 between Ernest Hemingway and a young Welles.” Welles said that a “whiskey-drinking Hemingway” mocked him as one of the “effeminate boys of the theater,” and, when he “mocked him back, Hemingway threw a chair and they scuffled—settling it with a toast that led to an on-again, off-again friendship.” Hemingway apparently “serves as the primary model for Huston’s character.”

Welles financed the movie by taking television roles as well as enlisting investors; one of the latter, a brother-in-law of the shah of Iran named Mehdi Bushehri, got frustrated with Welles’ spending and took the movie away from him—though Welles “managed to smuggle” 45 minutes of edited work out of Paris in 1975. In the years since, footage for the movie has been strewn about different parts of the world, under the ownership of several clashing rights-holders who couldn’t agree on its future.

Welles’ daughter and sole heir, Beatrice Welles, holds the rights, under French law, to more than 1,000 reels of negatives in Paris, and for years has refused to release them. Oja Kodar, Welles’ collaborator and partner (she plays an actress in the movie), has the print that Welles took in ’75. The French production company L’Astrophore, which Bushehri was an investor in, owned partial rights to the film as well.

For years, many people, including Bogdanovich, have tried to finish the movie, but none have succeeded. Largely spurred on by the director’s upcoming centennial, Royal Road’s Filip Jan Rymsza and Frank Marshall, a line producer on The Other Side of the Wind, managed to reach an agreement with all of the parties involved. Marshall and Bogdanovich plan to put the film together using Welles’ notes.