Friday, April 08, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Journey Into Fear (1943) at the Noir City Film Festival

Tonight was "Backlot Foreign Intrigue" night at the Noir City Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

This evening's films were THE BRIBE (1949), which I discussed here, and JOURNEY INTO FEAR, a relatively obscure film noir featuring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, and some of the Mercury Players.

JOURNEY INTO FEAR is a surprisingly short (68 minutes) but engrossing tale of an American munitions expert, Howard Graham (Joseph Cotten), who arrives at a hotel in Turkey with his wife Stephanie (Ruth Warrick). A European colleague (Everett Sloane) takes Howard out to a sleazy nightclub, and the disbelieving American is soon swept up into intrigue and danger. Before he knows it he's on a rundown freighter trying to escape those who would kill him. Only the mysterious Colonel Haki (Orson Welles) and his own wits can save him from being assassinated.

The movie has great atmosphere, excellent black and white cinematography (by Karl Struss), and a gallery of memorable characters portrayed by Dolores Del Rio, Agnes Moorehead, Jack Durant, Hans Conreid, and more.

Welles, unsurprisingly, dominates his every scene as Colonel Haki, and one only wishes there had been a bit more of him. Despite its short running time the film's structure makes complete sense, yet one has the feeling there could have been more of it, including perhaps scenes with Colonel Haki, greater explanation for exactly why Graham had been targeted, or further fleshing out the Grahams' characters.

Cotten's character is interesting in that he's not the typical suave, fast-thinking hero of espionage movies. Instead he's an Ordinary Joe -- tired, cranky, an imperfect leading man who is happily married to an imperfect wife. His disbelieving man on the run is so inept he leaves the gun he's been given under his mattress on the ship, and of course it immediately disappears.

But once Howard's desperate situation comes into sharper focus, he starts reacting more quickly, using the tools at his disposal, such as the pocket knife he's given by Mr. Mathews. (Frank Readick, who plays Mathews, gives one of the film's most engaging performances as a man who pretends to be a socialist to intimidate his nagging wife, played by Moorehead.) By the film's final sequence, Cotten's Howard Graham is acting as bravely as any spy in moviedom, pursuing the villains on a rainy roof ledge -- only to be brought back down to earth by his surprised wife's final lines.

The screenplay was written by Cotten and Welles, based on the novel by Eric Ambler, which is still in print. The evening's host, Alan K. Rode, mentioned that Ambler later married longtime Hitchcock associate Joan Harrison.

The film was directed by Norman Foster, whose career I wrote about briefly here and here. It seems that Welles did some uncredited directing, but he was busy elsewhere and the extent of Welles' participation is unclear. Some sources state that Welles publicly gave all the credit to Foster, who is the only billed director.

JOURNEY INTO FEAR has been rumored to be coming to DVD for years, but the changes in manufacturing and selling classic films on DVD over the past couple years seem to have put a stop to those plans, at least for the present.

It's available on VHS in the RKO Collection, and it's also out on a Region 2 DVD.

JOURNEY INTO FEAR is an entertaining movie which classic film fans will find an interesting curiosity, even if it's as imperfect as the leading character. It provided another most enjoyable evening at Noir City!


Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

I'm enjoying your Noir City Film Festival posts! Sometimes I love when a movie is short and too the point but it's interesting when a movie (or the time certain actors are on screen during it) isn't long enough.

My Facebook friend Alan Rode was there too! I wonder if he presented?

2:47 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Yes, Alan was the solo host my last two evenings at the festival, the other nights he's shared introducing the films with Eddie Muller.

Happy to know you are enjoying the posts! I tend to be a fan of short films but once in a while I run into a movie where I feel a few more minutes would be a good thing. :)

Best wishes,

2:51 PM  

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