In view of a recent thread discussing the death of the last survivor of CITIZEN KANE, it is amusing to note that a new film has just opened in New York: THE MAN IN THE CHAIR. The plot concerns an ambitious tyro film student, who seeks out a drunken derelict, "Flash" Madden. This fellow Madden is said to have been given his nickname by Orson Welles, when he worked as young man on CITIZEN KANE (as a gaffer). The student asks "Flash" Madden to mentor him in making a brilliant first feature. The old man is flattered, brings on board an old screenwriter pal (M. Emmet Walsh), and away they go.
[You have come across this general plot before, I'm sure.]
By all accounts, the film's great asset is the performance of Christopher Plummer as "Flash" Madden. He said the following, in a recent interview concerning THE MAN IN THE CHAIR, about those who mentored him when he was a younger actor:
"Yes. I've had many mentors such as Kazan and even Kama Savitski, who I was lucky enough to work under when I was 18, and those are extraordinary giants of the theatre.
"And in movies too, John Houston, Orson Welles, whom I've never been directed by, but whom I've known well and worked with several times on the screen. God, I love him. I was hoping to do a film with him because we were going to produce, yet again, Julius Cesar in brown shirt instead of black shirt. He said 'I want you to play Marc Antony and come in as a producer with me.' I thought, 'Well, I would do anything. I would pay to work with Orson because he's such a funny, witty man.' Of course, the thing never got off the ground, as was always his way.
"I always loved him because he never had a front man to charm the backers. He had to do it himself, and then he got so sick of charming them that he would call them a bunch of philistines and then leave the room and of course had no money. He was so shattered by these dreadful people that he had been charming."
Many wellesnetters will remember that Welles was indeed in the habit of giving nick names to his workers, and if I'm not mistaken, he did dub one of his Mercury staff, "Flash."
The critics are extending THE MAN IN THE CHAIR only so-so reviews, but initial audiences seem to really like it. The terms "decency" and "heart" dot commentaries. It would seem worth a try in a Holiday Season in which I've never seen so many dark, pessimistic Big American Produced Pictures.
P.S. Despite the remarkable resemblance of Christopher Plummer's "Flash" Madden -- the archaic headgear, the endearing crinkly eyes, the unshaven cheeks, the struggling beard, the drunken smile -- to a prominent Wellesnetter of my acquaintance, it is all purely coincidental. It is not true that THE MAN IN THE CHAIR's original credits stated: "Based on a memoir by Sweeney T. Baesen"!