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Too Much Johnson (1938)


Kid Dabb
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A silent (first) film by Orson Welles

Too Much Johnson, the first professional film made by Orson Welles and which has been lost for 30 years, is being shown in Italy today after being mysteriously recovered from a removal company warehouse. The silent film was found by the staff of Cinemazero, an art house in Pordenone. Demand to see the film - a slapstick comedy which stars a young Joseph Cotton as a playboy who flees the violent husband of his mistress - has been so high that organisers of the Giornate del Cinema Muto annual silent film festival in Pordenone have been forced to add extra showings.
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Joseph Cotton and Edgar Barrier in the 1938 Orson Welles film Too Much Johnson

The 40-minute film was made three years before Welles directed Citizen Kane in 1941, but it was never publicly screened. It is believed to be his first professional film and was intended to be shown as part of a performance of an 1894 play by William Gillette, when theatre director Welles was making his transition to film-making.

Restorer Paolo Cherchi Usa told AFP: "The discovery is a real detective novel of a story. It is a real mystery. I only have a few facts. The reels were in surprisingly good shape even though they were not kept in the right conditions, except for one where you could not see a thing which was restored in the Netherlands."

Usai carried out most of the restoration himself at the George Eastman House film institute in Rochester, New York, where the original is now being stored. The film will be screened in America next week.
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Orson Welles played a cop in Too Much Johnson

Usai added: "We have been inundated with requests and the showing in Italy has been booked out for months. We have been forced to organise two more showings on Friday to accommodate all the requests."

The film, which was produced by John Houseman, also starred Edgar Barrier, Arlene Francis and Ruth Ford. Welles had a small role as a Keystone Kop. Welles, who died in 1985 at the age of 70, never allowed the footage to be seen publicly, stating the film would not make sense outside of the full context of the play. The copy he owned was destroyed in a fire at his Madrid villa in 1970.
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Joseph Cotton with a surprised Arlene Francis

ALL PICS COURTESY OF GEORGE EASTMAN HOUSE AND CINECCA DEL FRIULI

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  • 1 year later...

I have to be frank-- I utterly despised this short film when TCM aired it the other night. I thought it was simply dreadful and definitely over-hyped. It sort of takes away from the greatness of Orson Welles to see such a primitive work. It gives us historical perspective on him as a developing artist, but it also makes us embarrassed for him that he was not a genius right out of the starting gate. I wish TCM hadn't aired it.

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wow, that seems a little heavy-handed :mellow:

 

"It gives us historical perspective on him as a developing artist,.."

-that's really all we have to remember.

 

"Orson Welles’s lifelong love of what he considered innocent entertainment – also manifest in his fascination with magic and vaudeville and early cinema – drew the young director in 1938 to William Gillette’s energetically silly but nimble and adroitly conceived (if also casually racist) 1894 farce Too Much Johnson as a vehicle for his Mercury Theatre."

http://brightlightsfilm.com/too-much-johnson-orson-welles-film-recovering-orson-welless-dream-of-early-cinema/#.VU7LSpNcD-5

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wow, that seems a little heavy-handed :mellow:

 

"It gives us historical perspective on him as a developing artist,.."

-that's really all we have to remember.

 

"Orson Welles’s lifelong love of what he considered innocent entertainment – also manifest in his fascination with magic and vaudeville and early cinema – drew the young director in 1938 to William Gillette’s energetically silly but nimble and adroitly conceived (if also casually racist) 1894 farce Too Much Johnson as a vehicle for his Mercury Theatre."

http://brightlightsfilm.com/too-much-johnson-orson-welles-film-recovering-orson-welless-dream-of-early-cinema/#.VU7LSpNcD-5

I think a lot of hype was generated about it, because of who it was (Orson Welles). But if anyone else had made that short film, it never would have seen the light of day at film festivals and on a cable channel. A perfect illustration of a later success causing people to go all agog over an earlier much inferior work. It's like someone going back and reading stories John Grisham wrote in kindergarten, because someday he was destined to become a famous novelist. But the fact is he did not create brilliant compositions at age 5. That's what we have here with this earlier film of Welles.' It's a curiosity and an insight into his development as an artist, but itself, it's not a work of art worthy of acclaim or all that much attention. I don't think saying this is heavy-handed but the just reality of what we have with TOO MUCH JOHNSON.

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  • 1 month later...

You have to wonder what Welles would think about this, if still around. Obviously, his original wishes that it not be publicly screened are not being honored.

He's so goofy that way about his films. Orson cracks me up,how finicky on certain things he could be. I'm surprised he hadn't water marked "Property of Orson Welles" printed all over the negative. Looool
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He's so goofy that way about his films. Orson cracks me up,how finicky on certain things he could be. I'm surprised he hadn't water marked "Property of Orson Welles" printed all over the negative. Looool

Chris,

 

Did you have a chance to see TCM's recent airing of TOO MUCH JOHNSON? If so, what did you think of it?

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