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On September 26, 2003, Mark Millar {1}, a very hot comic book writer involved with writing the hot comic book of the moment, Marvel's The Ultimates, posted a column on www.comicbookresources.com {2} outlining the details of an unfinished project of interest to comic book fans: Orson Welles' attempt at creating a Batman film in 1946.

According to the article, "Orson Welles ... seriously considered doing a Batman picture and even got as far as production designs, an early draft of a script and some casting photographs featuring various friends and colleagues in prototypes of what would eventually become the finished costumes." {2}

The article goes on to detail how Welles began meeting with National Comics (the precursor to DC Comics) in 1944 to discuss the film, then threw himself headlong into the project in 1946 after completing The Stranger. "Welles planned Batman to be an adult psycho-drama, but combined with what he described as the 'heart-racing excitement of the Saturday morning serials, given a respectable twist and a whole new style of kinetic direction unlike anything ever attempted in American cinema.'" {2}

The article states that casting notes and confirmation letters were found, casting George Raft as Two-Face, James Cagney as The Riddler, Basil Rathbone as The Joker, and Marlene Dietrich as Catwoman.

The project is said to have broken down due to the fact that Welles wished to cast himself as Batman and Bruce Wayne, while the studio wanted a more traditional leading man for the role, Gregory Peck. Peck even did a screen test as Batman during a break in filming between The Yearling and Duel in the Sun. When Welles found out about this, he furiously abandoned the project and instead threw himself into The Lady from Shanghai.

The article included an enticing preproduction sketch of Batman from the project, which lends itself greatly to the vision one might imagine an Orson Welles Batman project might have -- dark and stylized.

Millar states that his source for the information is Lionel Hutton, a film critic and historian, who was given access to the Welles estate to prepare a biography. The notes and sketches related to Batman were found in a "huge pile of clippings and notes other people hadn't even bothered to report." The Welles biography is set for release around Easter 2004.

Is this for real? It's actually hard to tell at this point.

The story as told by Millar has a number of flaws in it that are either fatal or are misstatements. Among these:
(1) Actors mentioned in the casting list were under contract to specific studios at the time, making the film very difficult in terms of legality. A large number of releases would have been necessary for this to happen, although not an impossibility.
(2) Extensive interviews with Welles, especially by Peter Bogdanovich, do not mention this project at all.
(3) Perhaps the most damning, The Riddler did not make his first appearance in Batman until 1948, which is two years after the project was supposedly 'in development' and four years after initial talks with National Comics.

Although none of these points is fatal individually (even The Riddler issue is easily explained by the fact that characters often slowly develop over long periods before they see print in comics), together they paint a potentially damning picture of this forgotten Welles project.

The true test of this will come if Lionel Hutton ever publishes an Orson Welles biography.

Sources (retrieved February 5, 2004):
{1} http://www.millarworld.biz/
{2} http://www.comicbookresources.com/columns/index.cgi?column=thecolumn

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