Lost Orson Welles Film Discovered in Italy
Though Orson Welles’ 1941 drama Citizen Kane is up there when mentioning the greatest films of all time, it was not the legendary filmmaker’s first foray into cinema.
The New York Times is reporting that Too Much Johnson, a 40-minute silent film Welles directed in 1938, has unexpectedly surfaced in an Italian port city Pordenone, where it is being prepared for an October premiere.
The short was originally intended to make up three separate prologues for each act of Welles’ Mercury Theater production of William Gillette’s 1894 play of the same name. It was never completed due to uncertain circumstances surrounding the actors’ wages and the theater’s ability to show projections. As a result, the stage production made little sense without the prologues and was met with poor reception. Following an unsuccessful preview in Connecticut, the play did not go on to Broadway as planned, and Welles moved forward with new projects.
The film’s stock was believed to have been destroyed in a 1960s fire that engulfed Welles’ home in Madrid but was just recently found in the warehouse of a shipping company in the northern Italian city. It is now being restored and transferred to modern safety stock by the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y.
“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 at 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.”
Too Much Johnson is set to make its premiere at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (Pordenone’s silent film festival) on Oct. 9. A U.S. premiere is set for a week later on Oct. 16 at the Eastman House.
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