Welles before Kane

Joseph McBride
1970 Film quarterly  
Orson Welles has never mentioned to interviewers that he did any experimentation in film prior to his coming to Hollywood-undoubtedly preferring the world to think that he burst fullblown on the scene with Citizen Kane. To an interviewer who asked him recently how he arrived at Kane's "cinematic innovations," he replied airily, "I owe it to my ignorance. If this word seems inadequate to you, replace it with innocence." But Welles was far from being a filmic innocent. There have been a few
more » ... ve been a few furtive mentions, largely unheeded by film historians, of a film he shot in 1938 for use in a Mercury Theatre stage production, William Gillette's farce Too Much Johnson, which ran for two weeks at the Stony Creek Summer Theatre in New York before Welles decided not to bring it to Broadway. He reportedly shot a twentyminute silent prologue to the play, and tenminute films to introduce the second and third acts. Included in the cast were Joseph Cotten, Edgar Barrier, Marc Blitzsteinr and Virginia Nicholson, Welles's first wife. I have not been able to see a print of Too Much Johnson. Welles has one, but he says that it is not worth seeing without the play. He also shot a film as prologue to his 1939 vaudeville show, The Green Goddess, "depicting an air crash in the Himalayas," according to his associate Richard Wilson. This also has so far proved impossible to locate. But I have been able to unearth an extremely interesting little silent film called The Hearts of Age, preserved in a private collection, which apparently was Welles's first venture into film. It runs about four minutes and stars Welles and Virginia Nicholson. The copy I saw, until recently probably the only one extant, was the original 16mm print. It was donated, as part of the Vance collection, to the Greenwich (Conn.) Public Library. The sound of the splices clicking through the projector was nerve-wracking-though the film is in remarkably good condition 19
doi:10.2307/1210377 fatcat:f75go74dfrd2vfjyyv3zzs2reu