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Too Much Johnson [workprint]1938

  • 4.2
In 1938, three years before CITIZEN KANE, New York theater tyro Orson Welles filmed comedy sequences for his stage production of TOO MUCH JOHNSON, a rapid-fire farce of mistaken identities. Long assumed lost, the reels were found in 2008 and preserved through an international collaboration between the National Film Preservation Foundation, George Eastman House, the Cineteca del Friuli and Cinemazero (and the results were given a world premiere at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in 2013). Though ragged and never designed to play as a stand-alone work, the sequences (in workprint form) are dynamic and exciting and show Welles already experimenting with intricate editing patterns, deep focus photography and labyrinthine imagery. It is a huge leap from his first film (the imaginative short THE HEARTS OF AGE) and the most exciting cinematic find of the new century to date. - Sean Axmaker

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Member Reviews (3)

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top reviewer

This is a very interesting, but also very strange early film by Orson Welles. Although it was made in 1938, everything about the film screams "the early 1920's". That the film is silent, the clothes are early 1920's style, the cars are early 1920's vintage, the parade by the Suffragettes. The whole film is a throw back, a "retro" effort in 1938 to create an early 1920's film. I just don't get it. Everything that I've read about this film says that it was never intended to be a stand alone film but was supposed to be some sort of complement to a stage production by Welles, but the film runs for over an hour, so how and where does it fit in with a stage production. It's way too long to complement a stage production that was probably no longer than the film itself. This film required a lot of planning and rehearsal, especially for all the outside scenes in the city, and the need to plan and position all the many cameras to catch all the unique angles in these outside scenes. All this is too much work for a film intended to only complement a stage production. Whatever the relation of this film was to some stage production, the obvious amount of expense , and planning , and detail, and work that went into making this film surely qualified it to be a stand alone film production too, especially since it has a fairly coherent and nearly complete storyline. So why Welles never finished this work as a stand alone film is beyond me, especially since it is so interesting and engaging in itself. But this "silent" film is so rough that it doesn't even have a title screen or a credits screen at the beginning, and no "The End" screen at the end, and there are no textual screens during this silent film to give the viewer a clue about what the actors are saying. No idea why Welles would let all this work go unfinished and almost get lost to history. No accounting for eccentric artists I guess.

This is better than most people's finished product in 1938. It's very cinematic, featuring Mercury's Joseph Cotton. What was Orson's intention, and why was it scrapped? I don't recall any mention of it in Simon Callow's definitive Orson biography.

I liked it but as I said I like anything Orson did.