Any time a previously unavailable Orson Welles work is posted online, cinephiles should get excited. Too Much Johnson, which was recently rediscovered in Italy, is now available online to stream for free.
As we previously reported last fall, the 1938 silent film was left unfinished by Welles, who was only 23 at the time. Still, he was already a major player on the New York entertainment scene as the head of the Mercury Theater company.
In 1938, he came up with the ingenious idea of screening pieces of the film during a production of William Gillette’s 1894 play of the same name. The film would be shown in between acts, with music and sound effects added. Joseph Cotten, who would go on to star in Welles’ Citizen Kane and countless other classics, even appears in the film.
It was believed that no copies of the film existed for 50 years, but somehow a copy made it to Italy. The George Eastman House in the U.S. helped restore the footage and it was screened at an Italian festival in October.
Now, as Entertainment Weekly points out, the film is available online for free on the National Film Preservation site. There is a 66-minute edit that tries to be close to Welles’ original vision, plus another version that has the raw footage unedited.
Of course, a few years later, Welles went to Hollywood and wrote, directed and starred in Citizen Kane. The rest, as they say too often, is film history.