Welles Film Rediscovered In Italy, Restored In Cinematic ‘Miracle’

Nathan Francis - Author
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Aug. 7 2013, Updated 6:40 p.m. ET

An Orson Welles film has been rediscovered and restored in what film experts are saying is a cinematic miracle.

The film Too Much Johnson was written and directed by Orson Welles, but was never finished and what was believed to be the only print of the movie was lost in a fire. But a 35mm nitrate work print of the Welles film was rediscovered in an Italian warehouse, and given to film archivists.

The 1938 slapstick comedy was made when Welles was just 20 years old, though he was already one of the biggest names in acting after a famous performance in the Federal Theater Project production of Voodoo MacBeth.

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Too Much Johnson was a slapstick comedy starring Joseph Cotten, Arlene Francis, and Ruth Ford. It was filmed in three acts, though not all parts were completed. The first act, which appeared to be the most developed, showed Cotten’s character having an affair under the name Johnson, and getting chased by a jilted husband.

The movie was written as a companion to a play from Mercury Theatre, which Welles had co-founded. But the play flopped when it debuted without the movie’s backing.

After the Welles film was rediscovered, it was given to the George Eastman House, one of the world’s leading organizations in film preservation and restoration.

Not all of Too Much Johnson could be saved, however. Two reels of the film were in good shape, but a third had decomposed so badly that those working to restore it believed nothing could be done. But with the help of a Dutch restoration lab, 96 percent of the film was saved.

The Welles film rediscovered in Italy will now get a new life on the big screen. It is set for a showing in America at the George Eastman House in October, and the same month will play at an Italian silent film festival.

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