This article is based on a piece by Jean-Pierre Berthome that appeared in French in The Unknown Orson Welles, the wonderful book edited by Stefan Drossler of the Filmmuseum Munchen.
Special thanks to Francois Thomas, who graciously translated key portions of the text for me.
All the sections below in bold type are taken from Welles screenplay.
In June 1967, the professional film journals announced that Orson Welles would direct an episode of the omnibus film Histoires Extraordinaires or Spirits of the Dead as it was known in America. By September, it was made public that Welles’s episode would not be used. Instead the final film would comprise three episodes based on some of Edgar Allan Poe's lesser known stories and be directed by Roger Vadim (Metzengerstein), Louis Malle (William Wilson) and Federico Fellini (Toby Dammit, or Never Bet the Devil Your Head).
See color images from the original French pressbook at my Facebook page HERE.
Early on, Ingmar Berman may have also been approached about directing an episode. In his book Encountering Directors (1972), Charles Thomas Samuels talked with Federico Fellini about the three original directors who were under consideration for the project. Fellini said: “I was still under contract to make The Voyage of Mastorna for (Dino) De Laurentiis and was in total confusion. Then along come these French producers who begged me to participate in a multi-episode film. They assured me that of the three stories, I would make one, Bergman another and Welles the last. So I said yes. Then it turned out that they had lied about Bergman and that Welles, who didn’t trust them, refused to sign. I continued anyway, simply because this was a way of freeing myself from De Laurentiis. When they told me my partners were to be Malle and Vadim, I could have legally refused. With me, Welles, and Bergman—three visionary artists whose images have a richness of meaning—there would have been some common quality in this homage to Poe. That’s why I signed, not for monetary considerations.”
Needless to say, the mind boggles at the thought of the "richness" of images we might have received if an anthology of Poe stories had been realized by Fellini, Bergman and Welles! It certainly would have been far more memorable than what eventually emerged as Spirits of the Dead. The Bergman episode, in particular, would have been fascinating, since, at the time, the Swedish director was in the midst of his own “horror” phase, having just directed Persona and Hour of the Wolf, and soon would be filming the real-life horrors depicted so memorably in Shame and The Passion of Anna. Poe’s story The Masque of the Red Death also more than likely inspired Bergman’s movie The Seventh Seal. There’s certainly little doubt that Bergman’s 1956 film went on to influence Roger Corman when he made his own movie version of Poe's story in 1964, starring Vincent Price as Prince Prospero.
Even more intriguing is to find out that Bergman wrote a never-published 11-page story in 1938, when he was only 20-years old, entitled A Peculiar Tale which appears to have been influenced by Poe. In it we come across the figure of a personified death for the first time in Bergman’s oeuvre. Maaret Koskinen, an authority on Bergman’s work describes A Peculiar Tale as follows:
It is an emotionally charged story of an anonymous narrator who encounters a beautiful yet highly perfumed woman in a florist's. She turns out to be a prostitute, a widowed mother and an intravenous drug user. Towards the end of the story the narrator finds her beaten to death by one of her clients. Her neighbor, a garrulous old woman, tells him about the assailant:
"And last night I met her on the stairs with a man. And the way he looked gave me a chill of fear. His appearance was completely white, and it didn't look as if he had any eyes, and he had a big floppy hat, and a long black cape"
The tale ends with the narrator walking out onto the street, his collar turned up against the "rain and autumn storms", having gone up to the dead woman and stroked her forehead: “Poor little thing, I thought. You wanted to be Death's pretty little harlot, and he paid you in his fashion."
What Poe story Bergman might have chosen to make is unknown, but Welles chose to adapt two of Poe's more famous tales for his proposed segment. It should also be noted that 21 years earlier, in June 1946, Welles had adapted Poe's The Tell Tale Heart for his radio show.
Working with his companion Oja Kodar on the script, Welles used The Masque of the Red Death to frame the story of The Cask of Amontillado and cleverly changed the sex of Fortunato, from a male to female. An undated copy of the script is in the Welles collection of the Filmmuseum in Munich.
The title page indicates the principal roles and notes the script would be combining two of Poe’s short stories into one episode:
The following script comprises two stories by Edgar Allan Poe, including a free adaptation of “The Cask of Amontillado.” The two are grouped together under the title:
THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH
By Orson Welles and Oja Kodar