Oh Orson Welles, how we love thee. Let us count the ways… From Rosebud to last month’s “My Lunches with Orson,” Welles continues to capture the minds of generations of filmmakers and film enthusiasts. Every so often, little bits of Welles’ work and legacy seem to crop up out of the woodworks, and if you couldn’t tell, we relish each revelation and rediscovery, from an unmade complete screenplay to a casino instructional video to a “Dark Tower” boardgame ad. Now, another piece of Welles has been uncovered in northern Italy, and it’s about time.
Considered to have been long lost (thought most likely to have been destroyed in a 1971 fire that burnt down Welles’ Spanish villa), Welles’ first professional film “Too Much Johnson” (his first amateur one was the 1934 short “The Hearts of Age” that he made still in high school) has been recovered from a shipping warehouse in Pordenone, Italy, according to the New York Times. Before you reach some interesting conclusions considering the name (especially in light of yesterday’s porn-themed discussion and new “Lovelace” clips on The Playlist), this is not Kane’s long-lost porno, but in fact, roughly forty minutes of film that was supposed to accompany a Welles-directed stage revival of the 19th century comedy of the same innuendo-prone name.
The play itself is a farce about a playboy (Joseph Cotten, the handsome devil) who assumes the identity of a plantation owner named Johnson in order to escape the wrath of his mistress’s husband (Edgar Barrier). In the Mercury Theater production, each act was meant to begin with a silent, Mack Sennett-style film segment. (These segments are what make up the “lost film” of “Too Much Johnson.”) The footage was shot in 1938, three years before “Citizen Kane,” and features members of the Mercury Theater troupe, including Cotten, Welles, Mary Wickes, Arlene Francis, Virginia Nicholson (Welles’ wife at the time), and a very young uncredited Judy Holliday as an extra. Apparently, the production did not go over so well in its Connecticut previews and Welles ended up shelving the project.
Although Welles had intentions of going back and editing the footage into a proper film, he never got around to it. So what we will luckily see in October may not be the auteur’s fully realized vision, but really, any footage will do for the seething Welles fans and cinephiles jumping at this news. “Too Much Johnson” will premiere in Italy on October 5 at the 32nd Pordenone Silent Film Festival. Don’t worry non-Continentals, the film will also screen at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY on October 16. [via RopeOfSilicon]