Lost Orson Welles Film Found in Italy

orson welles film italy

George Eastman House supervised restoration of 1938's 'Too Much Johnson'

Orson Welles’ long-lost 1938 filmToo Much Johnson” was recently discovered in an Italian warehouse and has now been restored, according to the George Eastman House and other preservation orgs.

The restored film will premiere October 9 at Pordenone, Italy’s silent film fest Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. U.S. premiere is set for October 16 at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y.

The silent film was originally meant to be shown as part of the Welles’ stage adaptation of an 1894 William Gillette play, and the Mercury Theater planned to show the three short films as prologues to each act of the play. The three-part slapstick comedy, which starred Joseph Cotten and John Houseman, was originally planed to be screened with music and live sound effects, but was never finished.

The film was found in a warehouse by the staff of Pordenone arthouse Cinemazero.

Other Mercury Theater actors that appear in the film include Eustace Wyatt, Edgar Barrier, Ruth Ford, Arlene Francis, Mary Wickes, Welles and his wife Virginia Nicholson. The play opened without the film on August 16, 1938 and flopped.

The unfinished nitrate work print was given by Cinemazero to Italian film archive Cineteca del Friuli, which transferred it to George Eastman House to be preserved with a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

The only known print until now was thought to have burnt in a fire at Welles’ home near Madrid in 1970.

“This is by far the most important film restoration by George Eastman House in a very long time,” said Paolo Cherchi Usai, senior curator of film, who supervised the project for George Eastman House. “Holding in one’s hands the very same print that had been personally edited by Orson Welles 75 years ago provokes an emotion that’s just impossible to describe.”

More information on the restoration process and screenings are available on the Eastman House website.

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  1. occultology says:

    Thank you, Cinema Gods!

  2. Reblogged this on digital didascalia and commented:
    Exciting news! I’m looking forward to all the forthcoming analyses placing this film within the broader Welles oeuvre.

  3. G. Jardoness says:

    Expectation Checklist: Pre-Gregg Toland.

  4. Kamil Polanowski says:

    make it free online, would be awesome, thanks

  5. When we will ever see his film adaptation of the book that was also the basis of the movie Dead Calm with Nicole Kidman? I think it’s been held up for years because of legal issues. A shame it’s just sitting on a shelf somewhere.

  6. The fact TOO MUCH JOHNSON is the precursor to CITIZEN KANE where the cinematic lens of his eye for the visual serves as predictor of that canon which would follow Orson Welles for the rest of his life treats fans and cinephiles to a wonderment (and wonder-lust) well beyond imagining.

    Short films the corner for the architecture of cinema…Welles, being among the top five moviemakers of the 20th Century, contributed mightily into turning the science of moving pictures into an art form; these three short films could be nonetheless.

  7. Michael says:

    It’s like finding an unseen early drawing by Picasso, except that in Welles’ case such a find is even rarer. It will be fascinating to see Welles’ developing fascination with film: his theater work in this period was highly cinematic, and there’s an expressionist influence in his high school film, “Hearts of Age” (visible in “Citizen Kane” and many later films as well). Welles’ lifetime film output was relatively small, so this discovery is very big. Now they must scour that warehouse for Welles’ original cut of “Magnificent Ambersons”!

  8. Clemmieo says:

    This will be a great treat, to see this! Just the fact that it is a film of Welles is enough, whether it turns out to be great or not so great; it will still show the genesis of his craft.

  9. Mitch mcguire says:

    Can’t wait to see it!

  10. Mark M says:

    Not mentioned in the piece is actor John Houseman, who was a member and early collaborator of Welles’s Mercury Theater and is the foreground policeman in the still from the movie that accompanies the article. A little more attention to obvious details, please!

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