“Say what you like, but The Trial is my greatest work, even greater than Citizen Kane”
In 1960, Orson Welles was approached by producer Alexander Salkind and his brother Michael Salkind to make a film from a public domain literary choice. Salkind promised that Welles would have total artistic freedom and he would not interfere with Welles’ creation. Welles and Salkind agreed to create a film based on the Franz Kafka novel The Trial, only to discover later the text was not in the public domain and that they needed to obtain the rights to the property. Earlier that year Welles’s son, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, had casually mentioned an idea to Welles about adapting The Trial as a stage play, prompting Welles to state that The Trial was an important book and that he should re-read it.
Welles took six months to write the screenplay. In adapting the work, he rearranged the order of Kafka’s chapters. In this version, the chapter line-up read 1, 4, 2, 5, 6, 3, 8, 7, 9, 10. However, the order of Kafka’s chapters was arranged by his literary executor, Max Brod, after the writer’s death, and this order is not definitive. Welles also modernized several aspects of the story, introducing computer technology and changing Miss Burstner’s profession from a typist to a cabaret performer. The film begins with Welles narrating Kafka’s parable Before the Law. To illustrate this allegory, he used the pin screen animation of Alexandre Alexeieff, who created animated prints using thousands of pins.
The cast included Anthony Perkins as Josef K, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Paola Mori and Akim Tamiroff. Welles initially hoped to cast U.S. comic actor Jackie Gleason as Hastler, but he took the role himself when Gleason rejected the part.
While filming exteriors in Zagreb, Welles was informed that the Salkinds had run out of money, meaning that there could be no set construction. No stranger to shooting on found locations, Welles soon filmed the interiors in the Gare d’Orsay, at that time an abandoned railway station in Paris. Welles thought the location possessed a “Jules Verne modernism” and a melancholy sense of “waiting”, both suitable for Kafka. The film failed at the box-office. Peter Bogdanovich would later observe that Welles found the film riotously funny. During the filming, Welles met Oja Kodar, who would later become his muse, star and mistress for the last twenty years of his life. Welles also stated in an interview with the BBC that it was his best film.