NUMBER ONE IN A SERIES OF TWO
THE TRIAL – 1962 – movie - A Classic Review - directed by Orson Welles – based upon an unfinished novel by Franz Kafka - published in 1925 – screenplay by Pierre Cholot and Orson Welles – the players are – Josef K. (Tony Perkins – who had just finished “Psycho”), Inspector A (Arnoldo Foa), Second Assistant Inspector (Jess Hahn), Mrs. Grubach (Madeleine Robinson), Marika Burstner (Jeanne Moreau), Irmie (Naydra Shore), Miss Pittl (Suzanne Flon), Leni (Romy Schneider), Bloch (Akim Tamiroff), Hilda (Elsa Martinelli), Albert Hastler -The Advocate (Orson Wells) – camera work by Edmond Richard – film editor Yvonne Martin, Franz Mueller.
Franz Kafka was born to a German speaking Jewish family living in Prague in 1883. His mother was shy, intellectual and bullied by his domineering father. He graduated from the University of Prague with a doctorate in law in 1906. He began his novel, The Trial, in 1914 while he was suffering from an unknown medical condition, which was subsequently diagnosed as tuberculosis. It was unfinished when he died. His editor Max Brod, using his interview notes, rearranged some of the chapters and organized the material. It was finished in 1925 and published in German by Verlag Die Schmiede.
Coincidentally in 1924, a year before Kafka’s book, the first version of Herman Melville’s novella “BillyBudd”
was published – "Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang!" Billy Budd was another attempt to dramatize the very unequal citizen-state alliance. Melville’s work was subsequently turned into a stage play and an opera. Peter Ustinov adapted it to a movie format and produced it in 1962. In yet another coincidental event; Welles’ movie “The Trial” was released the same year.
There’s a good chance that, even if you are driven out curiosity to watch this movie, you’re not going to enjoy it. Welles famously never directed a movie that made a profit in his lifetime. When he died he was alone and totally bankrupt. Given his famously contentious relationship with not only his father, but any authority - that includes every studio head he ever worked for - it’s logical he’d be drawn to Kafka’s own nightmarish view of THE LAW and its Black and White rules. The foundation which Kafka’s story is built upon is dramatized by Wells in the opening sequence of the movie. He uses animation to metaphorically explain the concept of that insatiable creature we call THE LAW.
In the opening scene, Welles pretty much makes that statement. It is a vain and idealistic aspiration to think one can overcome the roadblocks of obfuscation and confusion which protect THE LAW from understanding… the door to THE LAW has been slammed shut!
Who wouldn’t be more than a little unsettled by a call from the IRS or an unannounced visit by the police? K has no idea what law he’s broken… but he’s sure, as most would be, of his innocence. THE LAW, exercising its bureaucratic judgement as society demands, moves relentlessly
forward; it is unapealable. Man’s relation to THE LAW and his obsession with it is described and dramatized by both Kafka and Welles as nightmarish and grotesque. K is the quintessential innocent man helplessly caught up in the jaws of THE LAW.
Welles uses Tony Perkins as the twitchy, hand-wringing Joseph K. to illustrate that the expectation of reason and the existence of the absolute truth cannot co-exist. When confusion reigns, THE LAW is king.
Joseph K., an unremarkable cog in a large corporate entity, awakens one morning to find his room invaded by two police investigators. They are here to inform him that he’s been accused of an unknown
crime. K. is to be brought before a high court of the law. He proclaims that he has committed no crime and has nothing to hide. Although he knows he’s innocent of any wrong-doing, he acts in a manner that makes the people around him think that he is guilty ….. of something.
For a normal person, one who has never committed a crime, and with no experience with THE LAW, the workings of the “system” seem machine-like. The chain of events proceed in assembly line fashion without any explanation or precursor. The machine moves you forward, relentlessly, one clunk at a time.
Underscoring the absurdity of the process, Welles leads us through a series of confusing and inexplicable scenes choreographed to dramatize man’s hopeless quest to achieve an equal relationship to the state and the absolute standards of THE LAW.
Kafka received his inevitable sentence of death when his tubercular condition was confirmed in 1917. Looking at his own immanent demise we cannot be surprised that he would send K off to become a willing player in his own death.