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Lost Orson Welles film 'Too Much Johnson' rediscovered

By
KRISTEN BUTLER, UPI.com
Orson Welles on location in New York filming the long-lost silent comedy Too Much Johnson in 1938. (Still image from 16mm home movie via UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive)
Orson Welles on location in New York filming the long-lost silent comedy "Too Much Johnson" in 1938. (Still image from 16mm home movie via UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive)

Long-lost film "Too Much Johnson," written and directed by Orson Welles, has been discovered in Italy and restored for an October premiere.

Welles made the 1938 slapstick marital comedy through the Mercury Theatre, which he had co-founded the year before, as a companion to a 19th century play by William Gillette for a multimedia stage production.

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The silent film was never finished, and never seen publicly. When the play opened, it went to stage without the film providing background, and quickly flopped.

The only print of the film was believed to have been burned, but an abandoned 35mm nitrate work print was discovered in a Pordenone warehouse and brought to archivists.

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Filmed in three acts, the hour-long work stars Joseph Cotten, Arlene Francis and Ruth Ford. The longest and most finished segment, in Act 1, shows the Augustus Billings, played by Cotten, who carries on affairs under the name Johnson, chased through Manhattan by an angry husband.

Though only 20, Welles was already famous for his Federal Theater Project production of "Voodoo MacBeth," and his own Mercury Theater restaging of "Julius Caesar" in fascist Italy, which became a Broadway hit.

After "Too Much Johnson" flopped, Welles produced his famous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast later that year. Three years later, "Citizen Kane" premiered.

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The George Eastman House and the National Film Preservation Foundation worked on the restoration and preservation of the film, and will host a U.S. premiere in Rochester, New York on October 16. NFPF hopes to fund an Internet release.

"Too Much Johnson" will debut in Pordenone at the Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, a silent film festival, on Oct. 9.

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