Journey Into Fear

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Journey Into Fear: Was The Great Orsoni Behind the Camera or Not?

Feb 19, 2006 (Updated Feb 19, 2006)
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  • User Rating: Very Good

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Pros:Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Story, Cinematography

Cons:Recut by studio

The Bottom Line: Journey Into Fear is a tantalizing wartime mystery in an exotic locale. RKO studio recut it to make it more commercial. :-(


Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.

Journey Into Fear (1943)

I was going through a box of my old VHS tapes and happened onto Journey Into Fear a fairly decent film noir starring Joseph Cotten and featuring a cameo performance from Orson Welles.

Although Orson disclaimed any credit for the direction, it has all the earmarks of his work behind the camera. Orson (and the credits) claim it was directed by Norman Foster, a director who would go on to do a lot of work for Walt Disney during the fifties and sixties, including Davy Crockett and Zorro. Similarly, the screenplay was attributed to actor Joseph Cotten, but it also has the twists and turns that Welles favored when he wrote his own screenplays.

This was Welles’ third film for RKO out of a three picture deal. When Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons did not achieve box office success, RKO pulled the plug on their “boy genius” and recut both Ambersons and Journey Into Fear. They couldn’t touch Kane as they had given Welles full creative control over the final cut, something he was seldom to be granted again.

Journey Into Fear is a story of intrigue, set in an exotic foreign setting (Istanbul) - at least for the beginning - during the world war - and can therefore be compared to Casablanca or Errol Flynn’s Istanbul.

The story concerns an American armaments engineer, Howard Graham (Joseph Cotten) , who finds he is worth more dead than alive to the Nazi agents who are trying to thwart Turkey’s plans to re-arm their naval warships. They figure it will take months or years for a new man to retrace the steps Graham has made thereby giving the Germans time to win the war without interference from the Turkish, who they think will come in on the Allied side.

The flamboyant Turkish police colonel (Orson Welles) decides to spirit Graham out of the country aboard a tramp steamer plying the Black Sea. The sea voyage consumes the major running time, with a tense denouement at the port of Batumi. Throughout the movie, various characters make their entrances and exits, and many reappear as the film unwinds, often in a different guise. Most of the characters are played by members of Welles’ troupe, among them Everett Sloane, Cotten, Agnes Moorhead, and Hans Conreid, giving another tantalizing clue of more than just casual involvement by Orson. Dolores Del Rio played the vamp, while Jack Moss (Welles’real-life accountant) played the assassin, who keeps popping up, much to Cotten’s chagrin.

While the movie does play out to a satisfactory conclusion, consistent with a “B” movie, you can’t help thinking that the studio gutted it and left some very alluring footage on the cutting room floor. Several of the characters could use a bit more fleshing out and I noticed a few continuity jumps. But, unless somebody comes forward with a pristine uncut print from Welles’ own hands, we’ll never know.

Beside the obvious parallels to Carol Reed’s The Third Man and Welles’ own Touch of Evil, the film I think is most similar to Journey Into Fear is Beat the Devil starring Humphrey Bogart and Gina Lollobrigida.

I would recommend Journey Into Fear to film noir fans or fans of Orson Welles.

Thanks for reading!


Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV

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