George Eastman House Announces Lost Orson Welles Film Found in Italy

George Eastman House, together with the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF), the Cineteca del Friuli, and Cinemazero announced the recovery of Mercury Theatre’s long-lost Too Much Johnson, directed by Orson Welles in 1938. The silent film was found in a warehouse by the staff of Cinemazero, an art house in Pordenone, Italy.

Too Much Johnson was originally intended to be used in conjunction with Welles’ stage adaptation of an 1894 play by William Gillette. The Mercury Theatre planned to show the three short films as prologues to each act of the play. The three-part slapstick comedy was meant to be shown with the accompaniment of music and live sound effects, but was never finished. Joseph Cotten was cast in the lead role, with supporting roles going to Mercury Theatre actors, including Eustace Wyatt, Edgar Barrier, Ruth Ford, Arlene Francis, Mary Wickes, Orson Welles, and his wife Virginia Nicholson. The play ultimately opened without the film on August 16, 1938, and flopped.

The nitrate work print of the film—left unfinished by the Mercury Theatre and never shown in public—was given by Cinemazero to one of Italy’s major film archives, the Cineteca del Friuli in nearby Gemona, and transferred from there to George Eastman House in order to be preserved with a grant from NFPF. According to published sources, until now the only known print of Too Much Johnson had burnt in a fire that destroyed Welles’ home in the outskirts of Madrid in 1970.

The original nitrate print of Too Much Johnson will reside at the Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center, one of the repositories for the Museum’s collection of 28,000 film titles. The bulk of George Eastman House’s preservation work for Too Much Johnson was made at Cinema Arts, a film laboratory in Pennsylvania specializing in the restoration of archival material.

Eastman House’s restoration of Too Much Johnson will receive its world premiere on October 9, 2013 at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, the world’s first film festival of silent cinema, established in 1982 in Pordenone, and co-founded by Cherchi Usai. “To think that a silent film by Orson Welles has been dormant for more than thirty years in the same city where a major festival of silent film has been held for about as much time is mind-boggling. It almost defies belief,” added Cherchi Usai.

Too Much Johnson will have its U.S. premiere in George Eastman House’s Dryden Theatre on October 16, 2013 in Rochester, N.Y. For more information about the U.S. premiere of Too Much Johnson and the restoration process, visit http://www.eastmanhouse.org/lostwellesfilm.

Top