Friday, June 05, 2015

Summer of Darkness: Journey Into Fear

Journey Into Fear bears the heavy fingerprints of Orson Welles, who cowrote, produced, acted in, and designed the film, but did not direct. Some reviewers will bring up the idea that Orson Welles may have ghost-directed this film, taking the reins from credited director Norman Foster. In fact, Welles' IMDb page lists him as an uncredited director on the project. I'm willing to take Orson at his word, though, when he says that everything was directed by his friend Norman. Apparently, the aspect he takes the most credit for is the pre-credits sequence involving the film's assassin gearing up while his phonograph skips.

Leaving aside the question of the film's authorship for the moment, Journey Into Fear is an unassuming, taut, incredibly entertaining spy film with noir elements. The type of film Hitchcock is famous for, though on a slightly smaller scale. There are no heartstopping chases through national monuments, no sustained sequences of suspense. The film is, outside of a few scenes, primarily a stagebound affair, taking place in a series of cramped hallways and quarters on a boat travelling Batumi. Joseph Cotten plays the requisite everyman-thrust-into-the-sinister-spotlight as an engineer for an American munitions company that nazis would like to see killed, not because he's important, but because his death would slow down the arming of Turkish naval vessels.

The films title refers to Cotten's personal journey from disbelieving prey to, in the finale, fed up predator, as Cotten at first runs from the nazis who have captured him, and then attempts to turn the tables and goes after the monstrous nazi assassin who has been dogging him the entire film. Journey Into Fear is narrated by Cotten, in the form of a letter he's written to his wife in case he is killed. This sets us up to assume a fatal end for our hero, which turns out to be a bit of misdirection. This movie isn't meant to be a downer. It isn't meant to inspire thoughts of the dark soul of man. It's meant, quite simply, to be an entertaining yarn, simply yet professionally told.

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