Here lies the noble fearless knight,
Whose valor rose to such a height;
When Death at last did strike him down,
His was the victory and renown.
He reck’d the world of little prize,
And was a bugbear in men’s eyes;
But had the fortune in his age
To live a fool and die a sage.
—Inscription by Sansón Carrasco on the tomb of Don Quixote
Juan Cobos delightful history of the trials and tribulations Orson Welles faced while making his movie version of Miguel de Cervantes Don Quixote, provides us with some truly fascinating insights on why Welles never actually finished the film. In 1981, Welles gave his own simple explanation, in Filming The Trial, saying: “Don Quixote was a private exercise of mine, and it will be finished as an author would finish it—in my own good time, when I feel like it. It is not unfinished because of financial reasons. And when it is released, its title is going to be When are you Going to Finish Don Quixote?”
Of course, that was only part of the story, as Welles told Juan Cobos in 1964, he felt very “nervous” about releasing Don Quixote. ”I know the film will please no one,” explained Welles. “It will be an execrated film. I need a big success before putting it into circulation.” Of course, that success never came, and finally in March of 1969, Francisco Reiguera died in Mexico, which made any additional shooting or dubbing with him impossible. Then, in 1972, Akim Tamiroff also passed away.
In 1965, Akim Tamiroff spoke to the American Military Newspaper, Stars and Stripes in Naples, Italy and revealed his great admiration for Welles and his hope that the film would be finished later that same year. “I’ve been at work for four years on Don Quixote with Orson,” said Tamiroff. “He gets a little money, we shoot some more, he runs out, he stops and does something else. Now he's got the money and we're going to finish it this fall. What a movie! What talent that man has. An unlimited imagination! With Welles I'm a better actor than I actually am; I become hypnotized by his admiration. With him I always jump higher. Sancho is my greatest part ever. And you know one of the reasons Welles is so great? He's also one of the greatest photographers alive. He opens actors up, just like (Vittorio) De Sica does. He concentrates on images; he doesn't talk too much, which is no good in films. I just hope he finishes it this fall before something goes wrong."
Many thanks to Juan Cobos for revising his article for Wellesnet, which originally appeared in the wonderful Spanish film magazine Juan edited, Nickel Odeon. Thanks also to Lucy who provided the English translation which Juan corrected. Let’s hope that Juan Cobos finishes his book on working with Orson Welles soon, and that it is eventually translated into English!
...Please understand that Don Quixote has now, for me, much greater importance. I must be able to finish it at all cost, and with the utmost care. If not, you may understand very seriously that I will go and leave forever directing movies.
—Orson Welles in a letter to Akim Tamiroff
UNFORTUNATE STORIES ABOUT A NOBLEMAN FROM WISCONSIN
(Historias Desafortunadas de un Hidalgo de Wisconsin)
By JUAN COBOS
Having been asked the question so many times by journalists, Orson Welles decided as a kind of joke to nickname his unfinished work, When Are You Going to Finish Don Quixote? Yet of all his unfinished films, this is without doubt the one that his public—that discerning minority inside the great multitude that decides what succeeds or flops in the movie business—would have actually loved to have seen. In reality, it was always due in great measure to Welles uncompromising nature, that this other public remained so elusive. From the 1960’s on, those of us who were in touch with Welles daily knew that there was one fundamental premise by which Don Quixote would make it to movie screens: that another film of his would be a great success, of the kind that Welles had never known as a director and above all, that its success would happen in the country where he most desired it: The United States.
Of course, there were the usual economic problems, although the money needed for actually completing Don Quixote was perfectly accessible to him by just acting in three or four bad roles in usually nonsensical films, as Orson once mentioned at a business lunch I had arranged on his behalf with Alessandro Tasca and the Spanish producers Jose Vicuña, Paco Molero and myself attending.