Journey Into Fear (1943)

Journey Into Fear (1943) is a World War II cat and mouse espionage noir Jospeh Cotten tramp-steamer assassination thriller which although directed by Norman Foster feels mysteriously like like the work of Orson Welles!

The film was based on a popular Eric Amber novel, the rights of which RKO had bought in 1941 intending to use it as a vehicle for Michèle Morgan.

Ben Hecht was signed to write the script, and Robert Stevenson was to direct and David Hempstead to produce. Fred Astaire was discussed as the male lead —  as was Dennis O'Keefe.

Eventually Joseph Cotten was assigned the lead on the basis of his performance in Citizen Kane. and in July 1941 it was announced that Orson Welles would play a lead role and direct the film, following completion of his second movie, The Magnificent Ambersons. So Orson Welles was on board! 

Dolores Del Rio in Journey Into Fear (1943)

The hand of Welles is visible across the finished film, and of course Welles' disregarded Hecht's script and wrote a new one with Joseph Cotten. 

Welles's involvement saw the addition to the cast of other people from his stock company, such as Ruth Warrick, Agnes Moorehead and Everett Sloane. 

Joseph Cotten awaits the knives in Journey Into Fear (1943)

Morgan was no longer associated with the film, being replaced by Dolores del Río. As he was ultimately unable to direct the movie, Welles gave the job to Norman Foster — although the Welles' touch remains.

Joseph Cotten and Everett Sloane in Journey Into Fear (1943)

Possibly one of the most Wellesian aspect of the finished version of Journey Into Fear (1943) is how the film is carried by the supporting cast. This is typical of so many Orson Welles productions, notably Mr Arkadin (1955).

Orson Welles in Journey Into Fear (1943)

In Journey into Fear, the closed set on which much of the action takes place is a ship — and the characters on board form an incredible human menagerie of various sorts, sinister, vaguely comic, or simply guignol in the rather grotesque manner of a sombre human comedy.

Tramp steamer personalities in Journey Into Fear (1943)

Journey Into Fear (1943) is an early example of the full-on film noir style at play. It features a quite new at the time brilliant visual style which includes extreme camera angles, overhead shots, and scenes of night and rain.

It is not obvious that Journey Into Fear is a classic film noir, like the large numbers of examples of the style that Hollywood made between 1944 and the early 1950s. 

Instead, and because of the themes of espionage and intrigue, which do not seem to be backed up with any noir psychology or a similar tale of a weakened male lead thrust into an unsure world, it maybe feels like this is a film on the pathway to the full evolution of noir.

Dolores Del Rio in Journey Into Fear (1943)

In its film noir favour Journey Into Fear (1943) does generate a pleasing amount of paranoia en route to its window ledge climax. Perhaps paranoia is not quite the correct description — because Joseph Cotten's character Howard Graham is well aware of the assassination plot against him — and has good reason to worry about what is round every corner, behind every door, and within every pocket.

The world this American is in, which is from the start Istanbul, is so disconcerting and strange, and it's a world where rules are different — of course they seem arbitrary — especially when iterated and administrated by Orson Welles' character — predictably larger than life — Colonle Haki of the Turkish secret police.

Dolores Del Rio in Journey Into Fear (1943)

Welles booms and blusters and wears a dramatic hat. He makes all the Welles' moves, and with the addition of the Mercury Theatre supporting cast, the oblique and novel camera work, the wonderful alienation created by strange rules, behaviours, words, signs and a hell of a lot of rain — and the script re-write which he shared with Joseph Cotten — this is very much an Orson Welles movie it —  moves like it and feels like it sounds like it — a film noir feel despite the subject matter.

Maritime architecture in Journey Into Fear (1943)

Journey Into Fear is a spy movie, and this was a well established form which rose and flourished and burst out many films in the early days of World War II, both in England and the United States —  although there had been terrible many good spy films in the 1930s, not least from Alfred Hitchcock.

The espionage films form an equivalent tradition, and definitely influenced the rising style of film noir, not in the least for their darkness, fogs, violence and sense of mystery.

Soviet Batumi, Georgia in Journey Into Fear (1943)
Mike Grost: Like many spy movies, Journey Into Fear is set abroad. Also like many spy films, it involves a chase over a great swath of territory, unlike many film noirs, which often take place within a single US city.

The hero of an espionage thriller is usually unambiguous — he fights with the Nazis, or whichever enemy is in play. The hero of an espionage thriller does not make the film noir journey, whether a journey of redemption or a descent.

Joseph Cotten in Journey Into Fear (1943)

Further, an espionage hero does not normally have the same flaws as a film noir hero, and although he may be weakened by circumstances, does not habitually struggle with morality, usually knowing what to do. So although an espionage hero works in the shadows and deals blows to villainy where they can, an espionage hero is not usually on a fateful decline, or is even in the fashion of many a noir cop, a rogue or corrupt individual.

Ideologically neutral scenes take place near the finale where the action moves into the Soviet Union. Here the movie does neither endorse nor condemn Communism. Welles' political line was that he was a Roosevelt Democrat, and he seems to have politically consistent as a liberal Democrat throughout his career.

Early on, Journey Into Fear delivers the character of a magician, played by Hans Conried — the actor who famously voiced Captain Hook in the Disney Peter Pan. Welles adored magic and performed it well himself, touring with a stage magic act.

Look also here for a good performance by Mexican cinema great Dolores Del Rio as the most mysterious and attractive passenger on the freighter, destined to aid Jospeh Cotten in his fight for life, and unravel the mysteries of the floating mis en scene.

Another certain Welles touch is the addition of a musical menace with a killer-theme on the soundtrack to Journey Into Fear, where the little killer obsessively plays a scratchy old 78 rpm disc of the song Chagrin d'Amour which literally becomes a stuck record even the film begins.

Jack Moss as 'Banat' in Journey Into Fear (1943)

The assassin is a comically threatening figure, made scarier by the fact that he barely says a word — if at all. Additionally, his pebble lenses and his atrociously scratchy record confuse his presence even further, and as the needle jumps and damages the disc, he seems immune to the discord. 

Window ledge finale in Journey Into Fear (1943)

When Graham had to suddenly disappear he left behind a wife, and Colonel Haki has taken upon himself the duty to inform her of the crisis but elects to mislead, indirectly suggesting that Graham is a womanizer, with the possible objective to seduce her in this weakened state. 

"What's to become of me?" She asks. 

"We'll think of something." Is Haki's coy reply

Journey into Journey Into Fear (1943) at Wikipedia

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