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Orson Welles may have been responsible for expanding the language of cinema,but, aside from Citizen Kane (1941), few casual movie fans can name any ofthe films he directed. Then again, even for the well-informed, Welles'career is an unwieldy beast that offers up only a handful of solid truths.For instance, there are sequences in his compromised masterpiece, TheMagnificent Ambersons (1942), that were shot and inserted by RKO when he wasout of the country planning another film. And Journey Into Fear (1942),which is frequently cited in discussions of Welles' directorial output, wasactually directed solely by Norman Foster, if the film's credits, andWelles' later assertions, are to be believed.
They almost certainly aren't, though. Anyone who's familiar with Welles'expressionistic shooting style will see his fingerprints all over JourneyInto Fear. Joseph Cotten (who co-wrote the script with Welles) plays an American Naval engineer who's returning to the U.S. from Istanbul via train. But when someone tries to kill him, he's steered to a freighter by the head of the Turkish secretpolice (played by Welles). Cotten, nevertheless, winds upembroiled with a group of Nazis on the ship, and everyone slips in and outof the shadows while he attempts to make an escape.
Welles, to put it kindly, had a propensity toward re-inventing his own past,so that might explain his insistence that he was mostly a producer andscreenwriter on Journey Into Fear. But one memorable sequence, whichtakes place on a building ledge in a rainstorm, is almost certainly hishandiwork. Welles argued this away, however, by saying that the actors andcrew were all standing on a cramped, dangerously high ledge, so the scenewas directed by "whoever was nearest the camera."
Part of Welles' story, anyway, seems to have been completely true - the ledgereally was high off the ground. At one point, an unlucky crew member felland broke both his legs. Tellingly, Welles later noted that the man haddied, even though he hadn't.
Regardless of his degree of input or how hard he tried to create a newreality surrounding the picture - Welles always made it clear that he wasunhappy with Journey Into Fear. He said that he and Cotten had acompletely different movie in mind when they wrote the screenplay.
"That picture was also ruined by the cutting," he later told director/filmhistorian Peter Bogdanovich. "It was horrible what they did with it,because it was quite a good script that we did- it should have been a verydecent picture. Good cast and everything." He maintained that he andCotten had devised "the opposite of an action picture," but the studio,"took out everything that made it interesting except the action." Heruefully noted that you can even see a character looking through a shipporthole two reels after he's supposedly died!
Connoisseurs of hambone acting will also want to tune into Journey IntoFear for Welles' bizarre supporting performance, which is so over thetop, many critics at the time thought it was some kind of ill-definedparody. "That's what people keep saying about my acting in other people'spictures," he told Bogdanovich. "They think I'm this clever cynic thatjokes about what I'm doing. Not at all. Now, that character was supposedto be a cynical sort, and that's the way I played it- but I think Imissed."
Even when a genius misses, however, there's still something fascinatingabout the attempt. Journey Into Fear may be a misfire, but it'squite unlike anything else that was released in 1942. And we have OrsonWelles to thank for that...even if he was loathe to admit it.
Producer: Jack Moss, George Schaefer, Orson Welles
Director: Norman Foster, Orson Welles
Screenplay: Joseph Cotten, Eric Ambler (novel)
Cinematography: Karl Struss
Film Editing: Mark Robson
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Mark-Lee Kirk
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Joseph Cotten (Howard Graham), Dolores del Rio (Josette Martel), Ruth Warrick (Mrs. Stephanie Graham), Agnes Moorehead (Mrs. Mathews), Jack Durant (Gogo Martel), Everett Sloane (S. Kopeikin).
BW-68m. Closed captioning.
by Paul Tatara