Following its world premiere at the Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy, and its North American premiere at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY, the film's screening is hosted by the George Eastman House and includes live music accompaniment by Philip C. Carli and live narration by Paolo Cherchi Usai, senior curator of motion pictures at George Eastman House.
"To think that this American silent film has been in Italy for decades, abandoned in the very same city where a major silent film festival is being held — it is just mind-boggling," Cherchi Usai said in a previous statement. "What’s more, this is a fairy-tale story with a happy ending, and we are thrilled to be able to share this film in the city that it was originally filmed."
Originally intended to be used in conjunction with the Mercury Theatre stage adaptation of William Gillette's 1894 play, "Too Much Johnson" was meant to be shown as a prologue to each act of the play with the accompaniment of music and live sound effects. The film was never finished, and for more than 50 years, no print had been known to exist, as it had presumably been lost in a fire that destroyed Welles' villa in Spain.
The film follows a womanizer from Yonkers named Augustus Billings, who has been carrying on an extramarital indiscretion under the invented identity of the owner of a plantation in Cuba named Johnson. However, Johnson actually exists, which Billings discovers when he arrives in Santiago, Chile, in the company of his wife, his mother-in-law and a jealous husband.
The cast included Joseph Cotten, as well as Mercury Theatre actors Eustace Wyatt, Edgar Barrier, Ruth Ford, Arlene Francis, Mary Wickes, Orson Welles and his wife Virginia Nicolson. The play opened without the film Aug. 16, 1938, and quickly closed.
Following its discovery, the nitrate work print of the film, which had never been shown in public, was given to the Cineteca del Friuli in Gemona, Italy, by Cinemazero, a cultural organization that regularly screens classic films. It was then transferred to George Eastman House to be preserved with a gift from the National Film Preservation Foundation.
"The Motion Picture Department at George Eastman House is one of the oldest and most prestigious film archives in the United States, and we were honored to host the North American premiere of this film this fall," Bruce Barnes, Ron and Donna Fielding director, George Eastman House, said in a statement. "We are proud to be a key contributor to the restoration of one of the greatest long-lost treasures in motion picture history."
Tickets are available for $50 and can be purchased at eastmanhouse.org.
Visit eastmanhouse.org/lostwellesfilm for more information.