Written by: Michael Den Boer on August 5th, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, October 9th, 2013 (Silent Film Festival in Pordenone)
Director: Orson Welles
Writer: Orson Welles
Cast: Joseph Cotten, Virginia Nicolson, Edgar Barrier, Arlene Francis, Ruth Ford, Mary Wickes , Eustace Wyatt, Guy Kingsley Poynter, George Duthie, Orson Welles, John Berry, Marc Blitzstein, Herbert Drake, John Houseman, Erskine Sanford, Howard Smith, Augusta Weissberger, Richard Wilson, Judy Holliday
BluRay released: June 29th, 2015
Approximate running time: 67 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: U (UK)
Sound: LPCM Stereo
BluRay Release: Mr. Bongo
Region Coding: Region ABC
Retail Price: £15.99 (UK)
Synopsis: A plantation owner’s affair with a married woman and when her husband discovers. The Plantation owner finds himself in a game of cat and mouse with her jealousy husband who is out for his blood.
Too Much Johnson was originally shot in 1938 by Orson Welles, who planned to use integrate said footage as part of Mercury Theater’s latest production William Gillette’s 1894 comedy Too Much Johnson. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the footage would not be used due to the lack of projection equipment at the theater. And though the play would go on without said footage, this ultimately would lead to confusion with the audience. Also if all things has come together as Welles had planned them too then the film would have run for about forty minutes, a twenty minute prolog for the play, with two ten minute introductions for one for the second act and the other for the third act.
The first thing that immediately grabs you while watching Too Much Johnson is its tongue and cheek approach to the story at hand. Also in regards to humor its lean heavily towards slapstick comedy. Another strength of this film is that everyone are not always who they seem. Joseph Cotton’s character Augustus Billings at the beginning of the film, he pretends to be wealthy plantation owner who is having the affair the sets the plot in motion.
Structurally the narrative is broken up into three sections. The opening act mostly consists of husband chasing through the street and across rooftops his wife’s love the plantation owner. From there middle act goes to Cuba and once there Billings discovers that this friend a plantation owner is dead. And of course the jealous husband rears his head once again. For the final act the film setting up a final showdown between the jealous husband, Billings and the new plantation owner.
Though the cast for Too Much Johnson like Welles next two film’s Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons was predominately made up of actors who worked with Welles as part of The Mercury Theater. Too Much Johnson is significant for being the film that introduced Welles to Joseph Colten, an actor whom would go onto appear in numerous films directed by Welles. Performance wise Cotton hands down steals the show with Too Much Johnson. His ability to deliver psychical comedy is astonishing and it is a shame that he strayed away from the comedy genre. Too Much Johnson is also a rare comedy showcase for Welles who would never again direct another comedy.
Trying to evaluate something when you only have half of the equation is what we are faced with here with Orson Welles Too Much Johnson. After all said footage was shoot as a companion piece to a stage play and even when said footage is assembled, there is not a complete cohesive film to be found in this footage. With that being said, this film’s main merits is how its shows that even at this early stage of his career where Welles mind set was in regard to how he shot his visuals.
Too Much Johnson comes on a 25 GB single layer BluRay. This release has been flagged for progressive playback and the film is presented in its intended 1.37:1 aspect ratio.
This film was thought to have been lost forever. With that last known print of the film residing in a home that Orson Welles lived that was destroyed by a fire. Then this brings us to the print that was used for this release. It was discovered in a warehouse in Pordenone, Italy in 2008.
This a well authored disc, that source that has undergone extensive restoration that was mastered in 2k resolution. The end result looks very good considering the age. Sure there are some instances of print debris and some instances of contrast fluctuation. These things are to be expected and that fact that this film is even available to watch is the most important thing.
This release comes with one audio option, a LPCM mixin stereo. This is a silent film and there is no dialog. The audio sounds clear and balanced throughout. Also for those who don’t want to watch the film with Philip Carli’s score. There is an option to watch all the footage without any sound.
This release comes with no extra content. There are three options on the main menu, play feature, chapter selection and setup (audio).
Overall Mr. Bongo rescues one of cinema’s greatest auteurs rarest films from obscurity, highly recommended.
Note: Mr. Bongo are also releasing this film on DVD.