The Trial


See more details, packaging, or compare


A feverishly inspired take on Franz Kafka’s novel, Orson Welles’s The Trial casts Anthony Perkins as the bewildered office drone Josef K., whose arrest for an unspecified crime plunges him into a menacing bureaucratic labyrinth of guilt, corruption, and paranoia. Exiled from Hollywood and creatively unchained, Welles poured his ire at the studio system, McCarthyism, and all forms of totalitarian oppression into this cinematic statement—one of his boldest and most personal, and the film that he himself considered his greatest. Dizzying camera angles, expressionistic lighting, increasingly surreal locations—Welles unleashed the full force of his visual brilliance to convey the nightmarish disorientation of a world gone mad.

Picture 9/10

The Criterion Collection brings Orson Welles’ The Trial to 4K UHD, presenting the film on a dual-layer, BD-66 disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition presentation is delivered in 10-bit SDR and sourced from STUDIOCANAL’s new 4K restoration, taken from a scan of the 35mm original camera negative. The release also includes a standard dual-layer Blu-ray disc featuring a high-def presentation of the film (sourced from the same restoration) alongside all of this release’s features.

Outside of one slight annoyance with this presentation, I was practically floored by it. The restoration looks extraordinary and significantly improves over the previous 2000 (or so) one performed. A handful of minor blemishes are scattered about, but the image is near-pristine. The detail captured from the scan and then delivered through the digital encode is astonishing, and the fine grain structure is rendered superbly onscreen. Even the screen captures look solid in this regard. Fine details and textures are rendered cleanly, as is the smoke in a handful of interior shots. The standard Blu-ray presentation handles all of this beautifully as well, but there was a noticeable upgrade here, thanks to the higher resolution.

I also found black levels, grayscale, shadow details, and contrast to look better here compared to the Blu-ray, despite the lack of HDR, but this is also where my one slight annoyance comes in because as good as this 4K presentation looks, I do feel it could look just a little bit better if HDR had been applied. I have not seen StudioCanal’s 4K edition, but I am aware that it does feature Dolby Vision, and I’m at a loss as to why Criterion didn’t bother to carry it over to their edition. Did they feel it did more harm than good or didn’t make a difference? Was it just SDR levels in an HDR container? I’m unsure, though I don’t think I can see how it wouldn’t have helped. As long as it didn’t get too wild with brightness levels, I feel it could have done some wonders by boosting those shadows or enhancing the reflective surfaces, especially in scenes where the computer appears. Admittedly, the SDR presentation here already delivers inky black levels, vital shadow detail, and clean gradations in the grays (further helping the film's smokier shots), so it’s not like the presentation needs it. But I don’t doubt it would have helped improve all those things ever so slightly and give the film that “silver screen” look that is ultimately missing.

Don’t get me wrong. This presentation still looks outstanding as it is. It’s just that it could potentially be that little smidge better.

Audio 6/10

The film’s monaural soundtrack is presented here in lossless single-channel PCM. I thought it sounded pretty good, with the clear dialogue, but I still found it hard to hear Welles’ in a few places. The music can also sound screechy when it reaches its highs, and there are moments where the dubbing is obvious, but overall fidelity is still decent, and the track is otherwise free of noise and distortion.

Extras 8/10

The release’s supplements do look slim when one looks at the short list of features, and though I do feel there are some areas of the film not explored as fully as they could, there is quite a bit packed onto this disc that will keep viewers busy for a few hours.

This starts with a brand new audio commentary by Joseph McBride, a welcome surprise since it appears Criterion has slowed down with new commentaries in recent years. He looks at the film from the perspective of an adaptation of the original novel while also contextualizing it to this period in Welles’ career. He addresses the controversies around Welles’ take on Joseph K., where Welles saw him as just another cog trying to work his way up and is therefore guilty of “everything,” and explains his reasons for changing the ending (Welles hated the idea of K. ultimately submitting). He looks at the film’s visuals and brings up possible influences (King Vidor’s The Crowd being an obvious one) and the technical work that would have gone into creating them. McBride doesn’t get too much into his personal opinion of the film (which I’ve always taken as being mixed), but he addresses how he sees it a bit differently today and talks about why most have reacted poorly to it. He makes sure to point out that Welles did consider the film a comedy, if a dark one, and McBride explains that type of comedy wasn’t a thing at the time. He further explains that even he would not fully understand it until seeing Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove a second time.

McBride also goes off in other interesting side discussions not directly (or only loosely) related to the film, from Jean Renoir’s reactions to Welles’ work to how RKO set him up for failure when it came to Magnificent Ambersons and It’s All True. It’s a terrific, nicely paced, and well-researched track, but it suddenly just ends right before the final moments with Perkins. I assume it was intentional since the film’s audio plays on, but it’s somewhat jarring.

(The audio commentary is included with the film's 4K and high-definition presentations.)

At any rate, the remaining features (all found on the standard Blu-ray) are archival video features outside of the included theatrical trailer, which advertises the new restoration. The most significant inclusion, other than McBride’s commentary, is The Filming of “The Trial,” which is an 83-minute “documentary” about the making of the film, or, more correctly, 83 minutes worth of raw footage featuring Welles talking about the film in front of students at USC, which was to be used in part for a documentary Welles intended to construct about the making of the film. It ends up simply being a Q&A with the director, which could prove deathly dull with the wrong subject, but thanks to Welles’ candor and playful nature, it ends up being incredibly entertaining. In interviews, it can be hard to tell if Welles is being entirely honest with his stories, making things grander than they may have been, but most of his answers here feel genuine and sincere.

Right off, his playful nature comes forth when, in response to a question about the film’s music, he explains he could give what would essentially be some pretentious response alluding to the meaning of its use. The reality was, of course, he just thought it sounded good. He’s asked questions about the inspiration for the film (with great enthusiasm by one of the students), laying out how boring the background of the production in reality was (he chose it from a list of novels producer Alexander Salkind showed to him), and even answers in detail how some of the film’s more complicated shots were pulled off. Interestingly, he even gets into how he originally envisioned his adaptation, which sounded unbelievably complex and involved the sets breaking away. This leads to questions about his interpretation of the book and its protagonist, with Welles fully acknowledging that he could be wrong and that his approach was not what Kafka intended. On top of that, he talks about Salkind and the producer’s financial woes. He even addresses how he feels responsible for the bad reviews Anthony Perkins received for his performance, realizing critics didn’t understand the actor was interpreting the character precisely as Welles envisioned him. He also mentions he's a big fan of Al Pacino when answering a question about who he would cast if he made the film again.

A fantastic little bonus about this documentary is that it even includes a deleted scene from the film without audio and subtitles presenting what was written for the scene. The scene in question revolves around the computer in the film, with K. learning that it can predict what crime a person is likely to commit. Welles talks about the scene here, saying he liked it but felt it dragged the film to a halt.

In the end, I’m sure this is far from what Welles envisioned for his documentary on making the film, probably intending it to be closer in spirit to his documentary for Othello. Still, as a Q&A with the director (even with overzealous students, some silly questions, and Welles having a hard time hearing some of them), it's still incredibly insightful and a bit of fun.

Criterion next features a 1972 episode of the French television program Vive le cinema, featuring Jeanne Moreau interviewing Welles over lunch at the Ritz Paris hotel. The 29-minute program features the two shooting the shit, so to speak, talking about his early life before talking about some of his other work, including his Don Quixote picture that he still seems incredibly sure he’s going to finish. It has a highly loose vibe, presenting two friends just sitting and talking. It runs for 29 minutes.

The disc also features a 23-minute interview with director of photography Edmond Richard, which initially appeared on StudioCanal’s 2012 Blu-ray. His discussion is focused on the technical aspects of the look of the film, with Richard going over the opening, done in a single take, before talking about a couple of other long takes and setting up the lighting for the office scene. He also shares a story about Welles’ false nose and how Romy Schneider knew best how to put it back on when it would fall off.

I hoped there would be an on-disc feature that looked explicitly at Welles’ interpretation of the book. Though McBride does get into it to a degree, he doesn’t offer many personal opinions. At the very least, Jonathan Lethem delves more into that topic in the included essay, addressing criticisms thrown at the film, but does ultimately think Welles “was a better reader of Kafka than most of the director’s critics.”

In the end, more material could have been thrown in here, allowing for more insights from other academics, including Kafka scholars. Still, McBride’s commentary and Welles’ discussions around the film do a commendable job covering the film from a few angles.


The film still begs for a more lavish special edition, but the material here is still excellent and worth going through, with a 4K presentation that, despite the lack of HDR, looks fantastic.


Directed by: Orson Welles
Year: 1962
Time: 118 min.
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 1191
Licensor: Studio Canal
Release Date: September 19 2023
MSRP: $49.95
4K UHD Blu-ray/Blu-ray
2 Discs | BD-50/UHD-100
1.66:1 ratio
English 1.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Regions A/None
HDR: None
 New audio commentary featuring film historian Joseph McBride   Filming "The Trial", a 1981 documentary about the film’s production   1972 Episode of the French television program Vive le cinéma featuring a conversation between Jeanne Moreau and Orson Welles   Archival interview with director of photography Edmond Richard   Trailer   An essay by author Jonathan Lethem