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10 classic movies starring Orson Welles

Orson Welles is remembered today as both a director and a leading man, and some of his most memorable films feature the star on both sides of the camera. Even casual movie fans recognize Welles as the director and star of "Citizen Kane" (1941), one of the most critically acclaimed motion pictures ever made, but Welles was much more than a one hit wonder. Here are ten movies where you can see Orson Welles in action and appreciate his incredible screen presence as well as his directorial talent.

Orson Welles stars as Harry Lime in Carol Reed's noir thriller, "The Third Man" (1949).
Blu-ray cover from Lionsgate

1) "Citizen Kane" (1941) - Welles' tale of the rise and fall of a newspaper mogul made him famous as both a director and star but also angered William Randolph Hearst, the real-life media tycoon. The movie earned nine Oscar nominations but won only for Best Screenplay. Today, however, it sits near the top of most lists of the greatest movies ever made.

2) "Jane Eyre" (1943) - Robert Stevenson directs this adaptation of the classic novel, which stars Welles as the taciturn Mr. Rochester opposite Joan Fontaine as Jane. Welles certainly has the smoldering look of bad temper needed for the role, although Fontaine makes a very different Jane from the one imagined in the novel.

3) "The Stranger" (1946) - Welles directs himself, Loretta Young, and Edward G. Robinson in this post-war film noir, in which an unsuspecting young woman takes a disguised Nazi mastermind for her husband. Welles seems to relish the duplicitous villain's role, a type to which he would return several times in his career.

4) "The Lady from Shanghai" (1947) - Welles directs himself and his then-wife, Rita Hayworth, in this noir thriller, which uses the toxic relationship between the two stars to terrific effect onscreen. Welles might not have the most convincing Irish accent as Michael O'Hara, but he directs a riveting tale of murder, madness, and betrayal.

5) "Macbeth" (1948) - Welles directs himself in the title role in this Shakespearean adaptation, which stars Jeanette Nolan as Macbeth's murderous lady. Welles had plenty of experience with the stage thanks to his work with the Mercury Theatre company, but his creative take on the Scottish play was not a screen success at its debut. Watch closely to see Welles' daughter, Christopher, as Macduff's child.

6) "The Third Man" (1949) - Welles plays the enigmatic Harry Lime in Carol Reed's brilliant British noir, set amidst the ruins of Vienna after World War II. In keeping with his character's mysterious nature, Welles doesn't actually appear in the movie until quite late, but he makes an indelible impression when he does finally turn up, framed by shadows in a darkened doorway. The chase sequence at the end is a delirious masterpiece of action and hysteria.

7) "Prince of Foxes" (1949) - In Henry King's period adventure, Welles dons the villain's mask once more, this time playing the murderous duke Cesare Borgia. Tyrone Power stars as the movie's hero, and Wanda Hendrix plays the heroine.

8) "Othello" (1952) - Welles returns to Shakespeare to direct himself as the tragic Moor. This time Welles enjoyed greater critical success than he had with "Macbeth," and "Othello" won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, although it was not released in the United States until 1955.

9) "Touch of Evil" (1958) - Sometimes hailed as "the greatest B movie ever made," Welles' film noir story of crime on the border features brilliant camera work and a fascinating performance by Welles himself, disguised under makeup and padding as the grotesque Hank Quinlan. Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh play the primary victims of Quinlan's corruption, but Marlene Dietrich is riveting in a small, pivotal role.

10) "The Muppet Movie" (1979) - After the seriousness of so much of his early career, Welles found himself playing many strange parts late in his life, but it's fun to see him as the bearer of "standard rich and famous contracts" in the original Muppet movie. Welles' character, Lew Lord, is based on Lew Grade, who was the executive producer of the movie.

For even more films starring Orson Welles, see "The Black Rose" (1950), "Mr. Arkadin" (1955), and "The Long, Hot Summer" (1958). You can learn more about Orson Welles by watching the video at the top of this article.

Jennifer Garlen writes as the Huntsville and National Classic Movies Examiner. Her book, "Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching," is available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

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