Hello all! As Jeff alluded to in his Locarno post, we discovered something quite unexpected at the festival - an alternate version of "Journey Into Fear" which could very well be the Welles-approved one completed according to his specifications while he was in South America.
Stefan Droessler, head of the Munich Filmmuseum and organizer of the Locarno retrospective, made mention last Thursday afternoon that he had received a new print of the film from Germany, so I decided to attend the showing that evening mainly to check out its quality. Within a couple of moments, I realized I was watching a version of Welles' third R.K.O. production that I had never seen before! While the length of the film is only approximately three minutes longer, the tone and flow of the film is quite different than the version we've always known and I suspect that if it's not the original version Welles wanted released, then it is one that is much closer to it than what came out in '42. The biggest clue is in the credits which describe the film as "A Mercury Production By Orson Welles" and credit the screenplay to both Welles and Joseph Cotten (you may recall that the official released version states the film is simply "A Mercury Production" and credits only Cotten with the screenplay). This suggests that Welles asked for his name to be removed as producer and screenwriter after R.K.O. recut the film.
I hope to be able to go into more detail at a later date, but here's the differences that stood out in my mind:
1) The credits are reportedly at the very beginning of the film prior to the scene with Jack Moss as Peter Benat loading his gun in the hotel room. I say "reportedly" because Stefan told me that the gentleman who provided the print changed the placement of the credits himself because he was only familiar with the general release version which featured the hotel room scene as a prologue, and thought this print was in error for placing the credits prior to this scene.
2) A simple map establishing the story's location as "Istanbul" appears on-screen, then wipes off in a fashion which provides a fluid transition into the opening crane shot which takes us to the window of Benat's hotel room.
3) Joseph Cotten as Howard Graham does not provide any narration in this version of the film! Instead, the hotel lobby scene, the encounter and subsequent dinner with Kopeikin (Everett Sloane) and the visit to the cabaret are all longer, revealing the plot through dialogue and action. Most notable during these early sequences is how Sloane's character is more developed and is played for more laughs.
4) The introduction of Colonel Haki (Welles) is also extended and he delivers one anecdote regarding soldiers dying for a cause which was cut from the general release version.
5) I was quite excited to see a previously unknown scene between Haki and Graham's wife (Ruth Warrick) which takes place in her hotel room after Graham has been sent away on the steamer. Played almost exclusively for laughs, Haki insinuates that Graham may have left because of a woman, then starts making moves on Warrick! This establishes a relationship which adds more humor to the scene near the film's end when Graham learns that his wife has invited Haki to dinner.
6) The biggest changes in editing occur during the shipboard sequences. All of these play much smoother than in the release version. Significantly, at one point prior to the character of Benat appearing in the dining area, the skipping record that played in the film's opening scene can be heard as Graham climbs the stairs to the second deck. He doesn't recognize the importance of the recording, but the audience does and it helps to create some more suspense.
7) As I mentioned, the editing is less abrupt during the shipboard scenes. I was astonished to find a very well-shot scene showing Graham leaving his room, stubbing out his cigarette, and walking slowly down the hall to the room of Kevetli (Haki's appointed spy). The camera tracks backward in front of Cotten at an unsettling tilted angle which helps to build suspense before Kevetli's body is discovered (in the released version, the scene simply fades in as Graham discovers the corpse with no preparation at all).
The film's ending is in step with the more humorous tone of this alternate version. After both Muller and Benat have been shot and/or fallen to their deaths, Graham remains on the hotel ledge as his wife looks up at him in the rain. "Howard, is that you?," she says. "Get down off that ledge this minute!" The camera then cuts to Cotten who has a look of chagrin on his face as he peers down at his wife and the scene fades out followed by "The End".
Reportedly, Welles was disgusted with how sloppy the film had been re-edited when he returned from South America and insisted on adding Cotten's narration to clarify infomation that had been cut and giving the film the new ending we've always known where Haki kids Graham about his wife (interestingly, one persumes Benat has killed Haki in the early version since we don't see him again). It's open to argument whether the new Welles' directed ending is superior to the one I just described, but there is no question that the overall continuity and pacing is better in the version of the film I saw Thursday night than the one I've been familiar with for the last twenty-five years.
So why hasn't this alternate version been acknowledged earlier? I don't think the film is held in very high esteem by Welles' fans and this early cut just kind of slipped under the radar. After the Locarno showing, I asked Stefan immediately if he knew that he had hold of an early cut of the film and he professed that he wasn't that familiar with "Jouney Into Fear" and did not realize it! He mentioned to me that he was told the credits had been moved so it would more closely resemble the French DVD release's opening which did pique his curiosity (we later reviewed the French "Journey Into Fear" DVD and it is the same general release version available for the last 60 years). Robert Fischer, former head of the Munich Filmmuseum, told me the next day that he believes he saw this alternate version on German TV before, but did not realize it was different from the version most viewers were familiar with. He also recalled reading once that James Naremore was told by someone that there was an alternate German version of "Lady From Shanghai", a version that was never found. "Perhaps he got the title wrong," suggested Robert. "Maybe he meant 'Journey Into Fear' after all".