Don Quixote (unfinished film)

Don Quixote (unfinished film)
Don Quixote
Directed by Orson Welles
Produced by Orson Welles
Written by Orson Welles
Starring Francisco Reiguera
Akim Tamiroff
Patty McCormack
Orson Welles
Cinematography John S. Carroll
Editing by Stanley Kotis
Distributed by Image Entertainment (DVD)
Release date(s) May 16, 1992 (Cannes Film Festival)
Running time 110 minutes
Country Spain
Language English (dubbed)

Don Quixote is an unfinished film project directed and produced between 1955 and 1969 by Orson Welles.


Television project

Don Quixote was initially conceived as a 30-minute film for CBS. Rather than offer a literal adaptation of the Miguel de Cervantes novel, Welles opted to bring the characters of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza into the modern age as living anachronisms. Welles explained his idea in an interview, stating: "My Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are exactly and traditionally drawn from Cervantes, but are nonetheless contemporary."[1]

Welles shot test footage of actor Mischa Auer as Don Quixote, but representatives from CBS viewed unedited film and were unhappy with Welles' concept, cancelling the project.[2] Welles decided to push ahead by expanding the production into a feature film. Singer/actor Frank Sinatra invested US$25,000 in the new film, with Welles providing additional self-funding derived from his work as an actor.[3]


In 1958, Welles headed to Mexico City to begin work on the feature-length version of Don Quixote. Spanish actor Francisco Reiguera was cast as Don Quixote and Russian-born character actor Akim Tamiroff as Sancho Panza; Tamiroff had first worked with Welles on Black Magic, and had previously appeared in Welles' films Mr. Arkadin and Touch of Evil.[4] Welles also brought in child actress Patty McCormack to play an American girl visiting Mexico City; during her visit, she would encounter Welles (playing himself) and then meet Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.[4]

Welles worked without a finished script, shooting improvised sequences on the street. Much of the footage was shot with silent 16mm equipment, with Welles planning to dub the dialogue at a later date. As the production evolved, Welles told film critic André Bazin that he saw his Don Quixote being created in the improvisational style of silent comedy films.[2]

However, Welles’ production was forced to stop due to problems with financing. McCormack matured out of childhood, forcing Welles to drop her character from the film. When money was available, he switched the location shooting to Spain.[2]

During the 1960s, Welles shot bits and pieces of Don Quixote as his schedule and finances allowed; he even found time to film sequences (reported as being "the prologue and epilogue") while on vacation in Málaga, Spain, commuting all the while to Paris to oversee the post-production work on his 1962 adaptation of The Trial.[5] Welles continued to show Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in the present day, where they react with bafflement at such inventions as motor scooters, airplanes, automobiles, radio, television, cinema screens and missiles.[6]

Welles planned to end his version by having Don Quixote and Sancho Panza surviving an atomic cataclysm, but the sequence was never shot.[6]

The production became so prolonged that Reiguera, who was seriously ailing by the end of the 1960s, asked Welles to finish shooting his scenes before his health gave out. Welles was able to complete the scenes involving Reiguera prior to the actor’s death in 1969.[1]

The financial struggles of Don Quixote are mentioned in the film Ed Wood (1994).

Unfinished work

Although filming ended after Reiguera’s passing, Welles never brought forth a completed version of the film. The endless delay in completing the project spurred the filmmaker to consider calling the project When Are You Going to Finish Don Quixote?[7] Up until his death in 1985, Welles was still publicly talking about bringing the unfinished work to completion.[8]

In May 1986, the first public exhibition of the Don Quixote footage was shown at the Cannes Film Festival.[9] The footage consisted of 45 minutes of scenes and outtakes were assembled by archivists from the Cinémathèque Française.[1]

Don Quixote de Orson Welles

In 1990, Spanish producer Patxi Irigoyen and director Jesús Franco acquired the rights to extant footage of the Don Quixote project. Material was provided to them by numerous sources including Oja Kodar, the Croatian actress who was Welles' companion in his later years, and Suzanne Cloutier, the Canadian actress who played Desdemona in Welles' film version of Othello.[10]

However, Irigoyen and Franco were unable to obtain the footage with McCormack, which included a scene where Don Quixote destroys a movie screen that is showing a film of knights in battle. This footage was held by Italian film editor Mauro Bonanni, who was engaged in a legal dispute with Kodar over the rights to the film. He refused to allow its incorporation into the Irigoyen-Franco project, although he would later permit some scenes to be shown on Italian television.[11]

Irigoyen and Franco faced several problems in putting the Welles footage together. The filmmaker worked in three different formats – 35mm, 16mm and Super 16mm – which created inconsistent visual quality. The lack of a screenplay also hampered efforts. Welles recorded a one-hour soundtrack where he read a narration and provided dialogue for the main characters, but the rest of the footage was silent. A new script was created and voiceover actors were brought in to fill the silence left by Welles’ incomplete work.[7] A further controversy was the inclusion by Franco of footage of Welles filming in Spain, taken from a documentary he had made in the 1960s. Welles had not intended to appear in the film himself, other than as its narrator.

The Irigoyen and Franco work premiered at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival as Don Quixote de Orson Welles. Initial reaction was predominantly negative, and this version was never theatrically released in the U.S. In September 2008, a U.S. DVD edition was released as Orson Welles' Don Quixote by Image Entertainment.[2] The footage of Don Quixote in the cinema that is in Bonanni's possession has turned up on YouTube.[7]


  1. ^ a b c Brady, Frank. "Citizen Welles." 1989, Charles Scribner’s Sons. ISBN 0684189828
  2. ^ a b c d ""The Dark Knight: Orson Welles's 'Don Quixote' ," New York Sun, September 9, 2008". 2008-09-09. Retrieved 2010-03-06. 
  3. ^ Bogdanovich, Peter. "Who the Hell’s In It? 2004, Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 03754000109
  4. ^ a b Cowie, Peter. "The Cinema of Orson Welles." 1973, A.S. Barnes & Co.
  5. ^ ""Prodigal Revived," Time Magazine, June 29, 1962". 1962-06-29.,9171,897955,00.html. Retrieved 2010-03-06. 
  6. ^ a b ""Don Quixote de Orson Welles," Film Threat, February 5, 2001". Retrieved 2010-03-06. 
  7. ^ a b c ""A 'Don Quixote' Crusade; Orson Welles' Mythic Film Finally Pieced Together," Los Angeles Times, June 30, 1992". 1992-06-30. Retrieved 2010-03-06. 
  8. ^ "Orson Welles: An Incomplete Education," Senses of Cinema[dead link]
  9. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Don Quixote". Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  10. ^ By (1992-05-19). ""Don Quijote de Orson Welles / Don Quixote of Orson Welles," Variety, May 19, 1992". Retrieved 2010-03-06. 
  11. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (2009-10-22). ""The Most Beautiful Six Minutes in the History of Cinema," Chicago Reader, October 18, 2007". Retrieved 2010-03-06. 

External links

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