Orson Welles. A brilliant director. A talented actor. And not a bad narrator of animated films. We know one thing. The whole is often greater than the sum of the parts. So, today, we’re serving up three animated films narrated by Welles, plus some classic radio broadcasts.
We start with an animated version of Plato’s Cave Allegory from 1973. The allegory is the most well known part of The Republic (Download – Kindle), and Welles reads the famous lines delivered by Socrates. Perfect casting. This is hardly the first animation of the cave allegory. Partially Examined Life has a roundup of 20 animations, but we’re always partial to this brilliant version done with claymation.
In 1962, Orson Welles directed The Trial, a film based on Franz Kafka’s last and arguably best-known novel. The film begins auspiciously with Welles narrating an animated version of “Before the Law,” a parable from The Trial. And then the dramatic film unfolds. Later in his life, Welles told the BBC, “Say what you will, but The Trial is the best film I have ever made. I have never been so happy as when I made that film.”
The backstory behind this short animated film, Freedom River, deserves a little mention. According to Joseph Cavella, a writer for the film:
For several years, Bosustow Productions had asked Orson Welles, then living in Paris, to narrate one of their films. He never responded. When I finished the Freedom River script, we sent it to him together with a portable reel to reel tape recorder and a sizable check and crossed our fingers. He was either desperate for money or (I would rather believe) something in it touched him because two weeks later we got the reel back with the narration word for word and we were on our way.
Filmed 40 years ago, Freedom River offers some strong commentary on America, some of which will still resonate today.
Finally, if you can’t get enough of Orson’s voice, don’t miss The Mercury Theatre on the Air, Welles’ radio program that brought theatrical productions to the American airwaves from 1938 to 1941. You can still find the broadcasts online, including the legendary War of the Worlds program from 1938 (listen), and dramatized versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (listen) and Around the World in 80 Days (click the first item in playlist).
The short films mentioned above appear in our collection of Free Movies Online, where you will also find some longer films by Welles.