Long-Lost Orson Welles Silent Film Set For Upstate New York Premiere

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Orson Welles in seen in Los Angeles on Jan. 24, 1980. | AP

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — A long-lost silent Orson Welles film making its debut in the Italian city where it was found will have its U.S. premiere next week in the upstate New York city where it was restored.

"Too Much Johnson" was being shown publicly in Pordenone in northern Italy on Wednesday, 75 years after Welles filmed it to be part of a stage play of the same name. It makes its U.S. debut next Wednesday at Rochester's Dryden Theater at the George Eastman House, where experts restored the 35 mm nitrate work print of the film.

Welles never finished the movie, which stars Joseph Cotten. The play opened without the film in August 1938 and flopped. The silent film predated Welles' first full-length film, "Citizen Kane," released in 1941.

Italian film archivists announced in August that a copy of "Too Much Johnson" originally believed destroyed in a fire had been found in a box by a shipping company in Pordenone, a northeastern Italian city that's home to the Le Giornate del Cinema Muto silent film festival being held this week. The film was turned over to a local film society, but the find seemed of no particular value and was left unopened for many years. Circo Giorgini, an Italian expert on Welles, identified the film about three years ago.

The only remaining copy was believed to have been burned up in a 1970 fire that destroyed Welles' home in Madrid, Spain. Welles died in 1985. How the film arrived in Pordenone remains a mystery.

"This is by far the most important film restoration by George Eastman House in a very long time," said Paolo Cherchi Usai, senior curator of film, who supervised the project. "Holding in one's hands the very same print that had been personally edited by Orson Welles 75 years ago provokes an emotion that's just impossible to describe."

Welles made the silent slapstick comedy in New York City shortly before heading to Hollywood to film "Citizen Kane," considered by many critics to be the best movie ever made.

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