Friday, April 7, 2006

Welles' left hand

Browsing Joseph Cotten's autobiography Vanity Will Get You Somewhere (1987), I found a wonderful story of the scene from Citizen Kane in which Charles Foster Kane destroys Susan Alexander's room. Cotten of course played Kane's friend Jedediah Leland:

The camera rolled, the operator peered through his finder and whispered, "Whenever you're ready, Orson."

And Orson with his two hands started the destruction of the set. Crash. Bang. Split. Crunch. Chairs splintered, bottles broke. Chanel Number Five, Joy, Ashes of Magnolia, and other exotic scents filled the air and told us the property man believed in realism. Silk draperies slit and hung, limply defeated. Crash! More glass, more mirrors, more pictures from the walls. Suddenly, Orson was destroying the room with only one hand, wildly swinging away to kill any object still intact. The other hand was concealed behind him, hidden from the eye of the camera, but those of us who were watching from the side could see the blood and the long gash across the hidden hand. He looked around to be sure the job was finished according to plan, and then he made his exit from the scene and sat down near the camera. He was panting as he calmly said, "Cut." The assistant had called a car, and in the hospital Orson's hand was stitched by a doctor who admonished him for not stopping sooner, thereby diminishing his loss of blood.

"Blood," said Orson, "I've got plenty of blood. It was the perfume I was worried about."
I've heard less-detailed versions of this story before, always involving Welles' left hand, which he pulls out of camera range at the very end of the scene, when he picks up Susan's snowglobe. Peter Bogdanovich and Roger Ebert both refer to the hand-injury story in their separate commentaries on the Kane DVD. Bogdanovich mentions Welles' "hands bleeding," and Ebert notes that while there's no visible injury, Welles pulls his left hand out of view at the scene's end.

But when is Welles' hand injured? Welles tears up the room with both hands, all the way through the scene. At 1:49:53, at the very end of his rampage, his left palm is fully in view, free of any blood. Then the left hand swoops down and scatters perfume bottles on a tabletop. At 1:49:54, there's a glimpse of what appears to be a shadow (not blood) on Welles' left palm. Welles then pulls his left hand back, up, and out of sight as reaches with his right hand for the snowglobe, which has escaped the destruction.

So it seems that if Welles did injure his hand, it was at the very end of the scene. Perhaps he felt the searing pain of a deep cut, which could account for the odd, jerky movement as he hides his hand.

I still love Joseph Cotten's memory of this scene, and I certainly wouldn't expect Jedediah Leland himself to watch Citizen Kane to check.

comments: 2

Crritic! said...

Thanks Michael, I'll go back to the DVD with a closer eye this time.

By the way, have you read Simon Callow's "The Road to Xanadu"? Indispensible book by an actor about an actor - the young Welles up to and including Kane.

Michael Leddy said...

Hi Sean,

Let me know what you think after you watch the DVD.

I've not read this book, only J. Livingstone Lowe's same-titled book about Coleridge's "Kubla Khan." I'll put the Welles book on my list for the summer. Thanks!