Orson Welles used to say that he started at the top and worked down. In Fade To Black director Oliver Parker catches him at the beginning of that decline, using his reluctant appearance in 1949 period piece Black Magic as the cue for a labyrinthine mystery in the vein of Welles' own Lady From Shanghai. Turning detective to find who killed one of his co-stars, Orson soon finds himself up to his neck in political intrigue. The result? Citizen Arcane.
Short of cash to make Othello and still reeling from his divorce from Rita Hayworth, Welles fetches up in Rome for the Black Magic shoot with little appetite for his latest job. When a fellow actor is murdered on set, though, the Orson of old is reawakened – much to the dismay of Brewster (Christopher Walken), a long-time friend whose part in Italy's post-war reconstruction might not be as altruistic as it initially appears, and Tommaso (Diego Luna), the ex-policeman who serves as his driver and guide.
"A TEDIOUS YAWN THAT FALLS TO PIECES"
Steeped in retro visuals and noir atmosphere, the result should be a fun and nostalgic throwback. Thanks to Huston's strangely muted performance and Parker's plodding direction, though, it's a tedious yawn that falls to pieces quicker than a late Welles vanity project. Fans of the auteur will appreciate the nods to his oeuvre, while Walken is his normal offbeat presence in a role he probably shot in a lunch hour. Like Black Magic itself, alas, this is destined to be a forgotten curio of limited appeal.
Fade To Black is out in the UK on 7th March 2008.