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The Essential Orson Welles - Too Much Johnson

With special guest Norman Lloyd, actor and Mercury Theatre member.
Live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla

Three years before Citizen Kane, his towering first feature, reached theaters and changed the course of cinema, a 23-year-old Orson Welles stepped behind the camera to shoot a delightful silent film pastiche.

Arlene Francis in TOO MUCH JOHNSON, 1938.

It was intended to be edited into three parts, with one part projected before each of the three acts of his Mercury Theatre production of William Gillette’s fin-de-siècle farce Too Much Johnson — a play that touches on themes Welles would explore to great effect in his subsequent body of work: secrets, lies, false identities and a dash of exotic locales. Welles filmed such slapstick sequences as a freewheeling chase that finds a surprisingly athletic, nearly Keaton-esque Joseph Cotten performing daredevil feats over the roofs of lower Manhattan. Welles never finished editing the footage, and it was not used in the stage show, which closed while still in its Connecticut previews before its planned New York run. The footage went unseen for decades and was thought to have been destroyed in a fire at Welles's Spanish villa. Fortunately, the nitrate film was discovered in a warehouse in Northern Italy and was then transferred to modern film stock at George Eastman House in Rochester, with the support of the National Film Preservation Foundation. This footage has only been screened a handful of times in the United States, and the Academy’s presentation is the Los Angeles premiere of this preserved workprint. Also screening: The Hearts of Age, the director’s film debut, an eight-minute surrealist lark directed by and starring a teenage Welles.

TOO MUCH JOHNSON. 1938, 66 minutes, black and white, 35mm | Based on the play by William Gillette; directed by Orson Welles; with Joseph Cotten, Mary Wickes, Virginia Nicholson, Arlene Francis.

THE HEARTS OF AGE. 1934, 8 minutes, black and white, 35mm | Written by Orson Welles; directed by William Vance, Orson Welles; with Orson Welles, Virginia Nicholson, William Vance.

Screen legend Orson Welles was a pioneering filmmaker and raffish public personality, best known for the remarkable achievement of Citizen Kane. This series presented by the Academy will focus on Welles as a trailblazing director, presenting nine of the 11 films completed in his lifetime (several of them screening in brand-new restorations). As a body of work, these films – from the serene grandeur of The Magnificent Ambersons to the noir intrigue of The Lady from Shanghai and Touch of Evil – reveal the dexterity and inventiveness of Welles's craftsmanship. The series will offer examples of his dazzling technical expertise, such as overlapping dialogue, potent bursts of montage and bravura cinematography, and explore the themes that fascinated him, from anti-heroes corrupted by power to the dangers of pursuing uncomfortable truths. These films are a testament to Welles the tireless visionary, who, whether in the lap of studio luxury or exiled in Zagreb, approached each motion picture as a mystery that only he could unravel.

The series runs from May 3 through June 7. For more screenings, please visit our Events page.


Event Information

Saturday, May 3 at 7:30 p.m.
Bing Theater
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

$5 general admission
$3 Academy members, LACMA Film Club members and students with a valid ID.

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