Journey into Fear (1942)
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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 of the 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, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), that were shot and inserted by RKO when he was out of the country planning another film. And Journey Into Fear (1942), which is frequently cited in discussions of Welles' directorial output, was actually directed solely by Norman Foster, if the film's credits, and Welles' 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 Journey Into 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 secret police (played by Welles). Cotten, nevertheless, winds up embroiled with a group of Nazis on the ship, and everyone slips in and out of 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 and screenwriter on Journey Into Fear. But one memorable sequence, which takes place on a building ledge in a rainstorm, is almost certainly his handiwork. Welles argued this away, however, by saying that the actors and crew were all standing on a cramped, dangerously high ledge, so the scene was directed by "whoever was nearest the camera."
Part of Welles' story, anyway, seems to have been completely true - the ledge really was high off the ground. At one point, an unlucky crew member fell and broke both his legs. Tellingly, Welles later noted that the man had died, even though he hadn't.
Regardless of his degree of input or how hard he tried to create a new reality surrounding the picture - Welles always made it clear that he was unhappy with Journey Into Fear. He said that he and Cotten had a completely different movie in mind when they wrote the screenplay.
"That picture was also ruined by the cutting," he later told director/film historian 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 very decent picture. Good cast and everything." He maintained that he and Cotten had devised "the opposite of an action picture," but the studio, "took out everything that made it interesting except the action." He ruefully noted that you can even see a character looking through a ship porthole two reels after he's supposedly died!
Connoisseurs of hambone acting will also want to tune into Journey Into Fear for Welles' bizarre supporting performance, which is so over the top, many critics at the time thought it was some kind of ill-defined parody. "That's what people keep saying about my acting in other people's pictures," he told Bogdanovich. "They think I'm this clever cynic that jokes about what I'm doing. Not at all. Now, that character was supposed to be a cynical sort, and that's the way I played it- but I think I missed."
Even when a genius misses, however, there's still something fascinating about the attempt. Journey Into Fear may be a misfire, but it's quite unlike anything else that was released in 1942. And we have Orson Welles 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