Producer recalls late director's unfinished film

Frank Marshall has produced some of the biggest hits in movie history, but it’s his work on a project few people have ever seen that has film lovers frothing.

Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind” has been called the greatest movie never released. The film stars John Huston as an aging Hollywood director attempting to revive his career by making a trippy movie filled with sex and violence. Welles’ late-period cameraman Gary Graver calls it a bookend to “Citizen Kane.”

Welles began shooting “Wind” in 1972, but progress was fitful as he continually ran out of money. Around 1975, Welles had picked up the project again and called director friend Peter Bogdanovich, asking if he knew someone who could come to Carefree, Ariz., and help with the production.

“Orson was miserable,” Bogdanovich says. “He had no staff, no crew. I called Frank and asked, ‘Would you like to go work for Orson Welles? He doesn’t have any money.’ And Frank said, ‘Are you kidding?’ ”

Marshall drove from Los Angeles to Carefree in the Volkswagen microbus he had bought in Archer City, Texas, while working as the location manager on Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show.” For three days, Marshall ran errands for Welles, solved location problems and gassed up cars. During that time, Welles never called Marshall by name.

“Orson really liked to test people to see what they were made of,” Marshall remembers. “Finally, on the third day, he said, ‘Frank, go get me that over there.’ Wow. He called me Frank. I knew I was in.”

Marshall says he worked on “Wind” off and on for the next five years, whenever Welles came into some money. Cast members came to refer to themselves by the acronym “VISTOW” — Volunteers In Service To Orson Welles.

“I remember calling Mercedes McCambridge, asking her to come to Carefree to finish her scenes and asking her if she still had her costume,” Marshall says. “She said, ‘My dear, I packed everything in a suitcase and it’s been in my closet. I’ll be there with it.’ They all knew they would get The Call at some point.”

Welles died in 1985, leaving behind notes and about 45 minutes of edited footage. “The Other Side of the Wind” has been tied up in lawsuits among family members and financiers since that time. For the past decade, Marshall and Bogdanovich have been trying to complete the movie, partnering with Showtime.

“Showtime is willing to pay for it, but they want to make sure the materials are there,” Marshall says. “The negative is in a lab in Paris, but we can’t get the estates together to get us into the lab to confirm that the negative is in good shape.”

Marshall says he checks on the status of the legal entanglements every month.

“It used to be weekly, now it’s monthly,” Marshall says. “We’ll see what happens.”

Bogdanovich is more optimistic.

“It’s going to happen in the next month or so,” he says. “We’re aiming for Cannes. Everybody wants it. It’s film history. It will be something for it to finally be seen after all these years.”

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