The slapstick comedy Too Much Johnson was filmed the same year Orson Welles scared the bejeezus out of a national radio audience with his Mercury Theater production of The War of the Worlds. Now the long-missing silent short has turned up in Italy and been restored for an October premiere. The 35mm nitrate work print was discovered in a warehouse in Pordenone and turned over to the George Eastman House for restoration and preservation. Shot in 1938 — three years before Welles’ game-changing Citizen Kane hit theaters — the film was one of three shorts starring Joseph Cotten, Arlene Francis and Ruth Ford that were planned to be shown as prologues to each act of a Mercury Theater stage production of William Gillette’s 1894 play Too Much Johnson. The films never were completed, but the stage show went on — and promptly bombed. The only known print of Johnson was thought to be lost more than four decades ago in a fire at Welles’ Madrid-area home. The film will premiere October 9 at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone’s silent film festival, followed by a US a week later at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y.
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