Saturday, July 8, 2017

Stubs - Journey into Fear (1943)

Journey into Fear (1943) Starring: Joseph Cotton, Dolores Del Rio, Ruth Warrick, Agnes Moorehead, Jack Durant, Everett Stone, Orson Welles. Directed by Norman Foster. Screenplay by Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles. Based on the novel Journey into Fear by Eric Ambler (London, 1940). Produced by Orson Welles.  Run Time: 71 minutes. USA Black and White. Drama, War, Espionage

Orson Welles made a meteoric rise in Hollywood, making Citizen Kane (1941) as his first film out of the gate. Based on his reputation from his radio work leading the Mercury Theater, RKO studios gave the neophyte unprecedented creative control over the film. While hailed as one of the greatest and most innovative films ever made, Citizen Kane, based on its pre-release controversy and uneven distribution, was not a big success at the box office, losing money in New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Still, RKO stood by him, though they did take away his final cut, prior to his next film, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). That film would go over budget by about 20 percent and would eventually lose $620,000.

For his third film, RKO had its own plans, even though Welles wasn’t their first choice for the project, having paid $10,000 in frozen British funds for the rights to English author Eric Ambler's novel, Journey into Fear.

Originally, Ben Hecht was slated to write the script and David Hempstead was slated to produce. Then the 
studio announced that the film would star Michele Morgan and Robert Stevenson was to direct. Hempstead wanted Fred Astaire to play the lead and when he passed, Hempstead considered Robert Montgomery and Fred MacMurray.

But things kept changing and soon studio chief George J. Schaefer was trying to convince Orson Welles to act in and direct the film, but Welles was wavering between this film and another project, Louisiana Hayride, a story about Huey Long, the latter which would never be made. By mid-July 1941, Journey into Fear was being identified as a Welles’ project which he was going to produce under his Mercury Productions banner and was to help fulfill Welles’ four picture deal with RKO.

Welles was no longer set to star, however, that would go to Joseph Cotton, another member of the Mercury Theater. Welles was still set to direct until the production began on January 2, 1942, and then Norman Foster was in the director’s chair. And with another project, It's All True, taking his time, Welles’ role was reduced to three to four days of intense shooting so he could leave for Brazil on February 5th. (Spoiler alert, It’s All True never gets finished. A change in management at RKO, Schaefer resigning, left Welles without support. New management not only refused to continue to support It’s All True, but they canceled their contract with Welles and kicked Mercury Productions off their lot.)

Before the opening credits or film title appear, we see a fat man, whom we will later learn is the assassin, Peter Banat (Jack Moss), places a silencer on his gun as a broken phonograph record playing "C'est mon couer" is heard on the soundtrack. The sound from the broken phonograph will become a sound mark for Banat’s presence.

Howard Graham (Joseph Cotton) is an American armaments engineer working with the Turkish Navy. When we first see Howard, he is writing a letter to his wife, Stephanie (Ruth Warrick), explaining the circumstances that led to their separation in Istanbul, Turkey.

On their way home to the United States, the Grahams stop in Istanbul and are met by S. Kopeikin (Everett Sloane), a Turkish employee of Graham's company. Kopeikin inserts himself into the couple’s dinner and then, under the pretense of discussing business, takes Graham to a nearby nightclub.

Magician Oo Lang Sang (Hans Conreid) coaxes Howard Graham (Joseph Cotton) to be a part
 of his act, while Kopeikin (Everett Sloane) and Josette (Dolores del Rio) look on.

There Graham meets the Eurasian dancer Josette Martel (Dolores del Río) and her partner Gogo (Jack Durant). But Graham also gets dragged onto the stage by the nightclub’s magician, Oo Lang Sang (Hans Conreid), and into a disappearing act. But when the lights go out, a bullet meant for Graham kills the magician.

At the end of the trick, the magician has been murdered.

Graham is taken to meet Colonel Haki (Orson Welles), the head of the Turkish secret police. Haki is concerned for Graham's safety, but only because he has irreplaceable knowledge about the armament used by the Turkish Navy and, consequently, his death would be bad for the Navy. After showing Graham a photograph of Peter Banat, an assassin hired to kill him by the Nazi agent Muller (Eustace Wyatt), Haki tells Graham that he has arranged for him aboard a tramp steamer bound for Batumi, rather than flying there. Graham protests not wanting to be separated from Stephanie, but Haki assures him that he will personally accompany her to Batumi.

Colonel Haki (Orson Welles) promises to handle things.

At dockside, Kopeikin catches up to Graham and bids him farewell while presenting him with a pistol, for his protection. Once onboard, Graham hides the gun under his mattress. Later, he meets his fellow passengers which to his surprise includes Josette and Gogo. Also on board is Kuvetli (Edgar Barrier), a Turkish tobacco salesman; Professor Haller (Eustace Wyatt), an archeologist; and Madame Mathews (Agnes Moorehead) and her socialist husband (Frank Readick).

At dockside, Kopeikin hands Graham a handgun for protection.

Graham, who is feeling lonely and afraid, is befriended by Josette. When the ship makes its first stop, Graham cables his wife to meet him in Batumi on Saturday. When the ship leaves the port there is a new passenger; Graham is alerted to his presence by the musical strains of a record player. Haller warns him that Kuvetli is not who he claims to be.

Graham finds Josette is also on board the ship to Batumi.

At dinner that night, the new passenger joins Graham at his table and the engineer recognizes him as Peter Banat. Panicked, Graham tells the ship's captain (Richard Bennett) that there is an assassin on board, but the captain thinks that he is crazy and literally laughs in his face.

Assassin Banat (Jack Moss) is also on board, as is his employer, Professor Haller (Eustace Wyatt).

Fearing for his life, Graham discovers that his gun is missing and turns to Josette for help. After listening to his story, Josette offers to have Gogo detain Banat in a card game while Graham searches his cabin. Afterward, when he returns to his own cabin, Graham is confronted by a gun-toting Haller, who Graham identifies as Muller.

Haller notifies him that he’ll be killed soon after departing the boat, but he offers to spare Graham's life if Graham will delay his return to the States for six weeks. He explains that the Germans seek only a postponement in Graham making recommendations for arming the Turkish Navy. Haller suggests that Graham check into a hospital with a case of "typhoid." Before leaving, Haller informs Graham that Kuvetli is a Turkish agent sent by Haki. He warns Graham not to tell Kuvetli of the plans they’ve discussed. Graham’s return to America would be at risk if he does.

After Haller leaves, Kuvetli contacts Graham and instructs him to consent to Haller's plan. He tells Graham that when the ship docks in Batumi, he should hide while Kuvetli goes ashore to make arrangements for the arrests of Haller and Banat. Graham follows Kuvetli's instructions and agrees to Haller's terms, but when he goes to contact Kuvetli, he discovers the agent has been murdered and hears the familiar strains of a musical recording in Banat’s cabin.

Graham finds Turkish Agent Kuvetli (Edgar Barrier).

Desperate, Graham asks Mathews to deliver a message to the Turkish counsel. He agrees and later offers Graham the only “weapons” he has at his disposal, a pocket knife and an umbrella for protection. When the boat docks in Batumi, Banat and Haller escort Graham ashore and into a waiting car. As they are driving, one of the car's tires goes flat and when the driver leaves his seat to examine the tire, Graham sticks the pocket knife into the horn, causing it to sound off and stay on. During the ensuing commotion, Graham jumps into the driver's seat, purposefully crashes the car into a store window and escapes his captors.

Haller and Banat take Graham hostage as soon as he gets off the ship.

That night, as a storm rages, Graham runs into a hotel and asks for his wife in her room. When he calls her, she tells him to come right up. But he discovers that she is not alone, as Haller and Banat are waiting for him. Stephanie thinks that Haller is Bill Ridgely, a representative from her husband's company. When he tries to bolt, he finds Banat outside the door. She leaves them alone to discuss business while she joins Haki for a drink in the hotel bar. Haller asks her to keep Haki busy for a minute and leaves Banat in the room with Graham.

When Graham is reunited with his wife Stephanie (Ruth
Warrick), he finds Haller and Banat are also there.

But two maids come to change the linens, delaying Banat. Soon after the phone rings, Josette is calling from the lobby. She tells him that Gogo, who has been trying to make a deal with Graham for Josette's "services," is on his way up to the room. He arrives just as the maids are leaving. Banat shoots at him, sending him scurrying to the lobby for help. Graham uses the diversion to jump out the window onto the cornice of the building, where he is followed by Banat. Graham tries to escape through a hotel room, but out in the hall he sees Haller and goes back onto the ledge. At that moment, Haki appears on the ledge and shoots Haller. When Haki takes chase, Banat then wounds him and he falls back into a hotel room.

The heavy rain makes it hard for Banat to aim at Graham.

Graham chases after Banat who, even though blinded by the rain, keeps shooting at him, but misses. After emptying his pistol, Banat lies in wait for Graham, but falls to his death when the awning he grabs gives way under his weight.

Finally, safe in the hotel, Graham finishes writing the letter to his wife that he began on board the ship, and when Haki tells him that Stephanie is waiting for him upstairs, Graham tears up the now completed letter and leaves to join her.

For the most part, this is a fast-paced film with some interesting twists along the way. Like Graham, you never know who you can trust as everyone, including Haki, are suspect characters. While Muller and Banat want to kill him, Haki, it is rumored, is a ladies' man who might chase after Stephanie in Graham’s absence.
Joseph Cotton has a laid back acting style that seems to fit in well with Graham’s character. He’s the type that goes with the flow until that river nearly drowns him. But he never really loses his cool, which allows him to maneuver through his predicament.

On the opposite side of the ledger is Orson Welles’ portrayal of Haki. Even though the character really isn’t on the screen all that long, he certainly seems, through Welles’ presence alone, to dominate any scene he’s in. It’s also should come as no surprise that he also turns out to be a hero of sorts, killing one of the two assassins out to kill Graham.

Orson Welles' Haki isn't in many scenes, but still dominates the ones he is in.

Of these two, Jack Moss’ Peter Banat is the most terrifying. This is because he never says a word of dialogue in the film. Apparently, this was one of Moss’ requirements if he was going to play the role. A quick perusal of IMDb will show that this is his only role in a film, even though he would write, produce and direct films at different stages in his career. IMDb, as an example, lists him as an uncredited Associate Producer on Journey into Fear.

Delores Del Rio is not an actress that I’ve seen in many films, even though her career spanned Hollywood silent films through the Golden Age of Mexican cinema to appearances on Television shows. Mexican-born, Del Rio was one of the first Latin cross-over stars, considered by some to be a female equivalent of Rudolph Valentino. She successfully made the move to sound and made quite a splash in Bird of Paradise (1932), a pre-code film in which she swam in the nude.

Despite her credits and talents, she is in the film mostly because of her relationship with Orson Welles, whom she had met in 1940, when her marriage to Cedric Gibbons, MGM’s famous art director, was falling apart. While her relationship with Welles was fairly short-lived, she does make quite a presence in this film. She is as exotic as she is even-keeled as Josette, the cabaret performer who takes a liking to Graham while he’s on the run.

One of the oddest characters is Kopeikin played by Everett Sloan. I’m not sure what to make of him, not only does he insert himself into Graham’s life, but he seems to set up Graham like a pig to the slaughter. A rather bubbling man, he seems to do more harm than good, though he disappears from the film after Graham boards the boat with a gun Kopeikin supplies him no less. It’s hard to tell if he’s friend or foe, but he is really a little of both.

The film has a claustrophobic feel throughout, as it goes from room to room to boat to car, but it is really the rain scene at the end that really makes it worth watching. A fascinating set piece, the rain becomes as much a character as anyone else in the film, helping to save Graham’s life when it adversely effects Banat’s aim.
While the film may star Joseph Cotton, it still bears the stamp of Orson Welles. Even though he didn’t direct the film it still seems like a film meant to showcase his talents. Not that Norman Foster did a bad job directing the film, the shadow of Welles hangs over his shoulder.

Journey into Fear is not a bad film, though hardly great. Closer to a B-movie than Citizen Kane, perhaps without Welles in it, it might have succeeded better on that level.

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