Orson Welles Narrates Plato’s Cave Allegory, Kafka’s Parable, and Freedom River

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.

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