When it comes to cinematic innovators, Orson Welles (along with DPs Gregg Toland and Russell Metty) is one of the biggest early contributors to the art of cinematography and filmmaking in general. Films like Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil are staples of film education, and any aspiring moviemaker would be wise to get their hands on as much of the Oscar-winner's work as humanly possible. Now, thanks to the National Film Preservation Foundation and Fandor, you can watch and/or download his long-lost farce Too Much Johnson, which, as the title seems to suggest, was his first professional foray into making films with long running times.
Welles made (but never finished editing) the 66-minute comedy back in 1938, three years before the release of his crowning achievement, Citizen Kane, as part of the multimedia presentation of the William Gillette play of the same name. It was long thought that the film's last copy was destroyed during a fire at the director's Spanish villa in 1970, but a print was discovered in an Italian warehouse in 2008. Since its presumed disappearance, Too Much Johnson had gone unseen by the public until recent years, and only now are fans able to access it online.
The National Film Preservation Foundation gives a little bit more background on the history of the film:
Never finished and long presumed lost, the film survives as 10 reels of an abandoned, partially edited 35mm nitrate work print created in the summer of 1938 by the 23-year-old Orson Welles. The footage was most fully edited by Welles in its opening reel -- the first seven minutes here -- but most is a rough assemblage, and all of it lacks the intertitles he planned to write --
The main challenge now to appreciating Too Much Johnson is putting it in its original context. For the Mercury Theatre’s inventive 1938 stage production, William Gillette’s 1894 marital farce was intended to become a breakneck multimedia comedy, each of its three acts to be prefaced by a silent movie.
CBS did a story about the discovery of the film last year. Check out their report below:
Though Too Much Johnson is worth a watch for a number of reasons (because it's a historical treasure!), it's by no means Welles' final vision for the project. It exists solely as a workprint, which means that it's a little rough around the edges with only the first seven minutes actually edited.
You can watch/download the full 66-minute workprint version on the NFPF website and on Fandor (in full HD). Fandor also offers a reimagined version that is just 34 minutes long, as well as a full write-up about its history, which you can read here.
- Too Much Johnson [workprint] -- Fandor
- Too Much Johnson -- Fandor
- "Too Much Johnson" Work Print (1938, 66 min.) -- National Film Preservation Foundation
- Rediscovery: Orson Welles’ TOO MUCH JOHNSON -- Fandor
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