Too Much Johnson

Now there’s a title for the ages. It was all over Twitter last August, mingling unfortunately with tweets about Linda Lovelace, whose official biopic was just then going into American release. You knew it had to be a lark of some kind, and it was, but a rediscovered early Orson Welles movie may not have been your first guess. Welles didn’t originate the title, but prudently renewed it for a cinematic add-on to the stage farce of that name from 1894, which he revived in 1938. A mistaken-identity caper starring Welles regular Joseph Cotten as a New York philanderer, this Too Much Johnson visually obviated the play’s backstory while also paying inventive homage to silent-movie slapstick. It gave a clear forecast of the eventual auteur’s picture-making proclivities. Presumed lost until a partial work print turned up in an Italian film exhibitor’s warehouse last year, and restored with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation, it now serves as a pleasant reminder that before Welles became the young genius of Citizen Kane, he was a juvenile genius goofing around with friends and figuring out the medium. Plus, maybe before Too Much Johnson there was not enough Johnson, and maybe just the right amount of Johnson thereafter.