Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Star of the Month Joseph Cotten

TCM are finally getting around to honoring Joseph Cotten as their Star of the Month; Cotten's movies will be airing every Tuesday in prime time in December. The first night of the retrospective looks at a number of the movies Cotten made with Orson Welles. The Third Man, from which the picture here is taken, will be showing up later in the month, as part of a night of Cotten mystery and suspense movies. Tonight, however, we get the well-known Citizen Kane at 8:00 PM ET, followed by The Magnificent Ambersons at 10:15 PM. A lesser-known movie that I'd like to highlight is Journey Into Fear, which starts just after midnight.

Cotten stars as a munitions expert in Istanbul for a conference. It's World War II, and the Nazis know that Cotten is here, and obviously want him dead! Of course, they try to kill him in Istanbul, and fail -- otherwise the movie would end forthwith. Cotten, having narrowly escaped death, is taken to the local police inspector (Welles), who decides that the best thing for Cotten to do is get out of the country. Welles promptly arranges passage on a steamer traveling across the Black sea from Istanbul to Batumi, in the friendly Soviet Union (this is World War II, after all); what happens thereafter is up to Cotten.

Getting on the ship is not the end of the story, either. Once cotten boards the ship, he is faced with the usual motley assortment of oddballs, one of whom is bound to have been sent there by his pursuers from Nazi Germany. Cotten eventually arrives in Batumi, and....

This is one the lesser-known movies Welles was involved in. It certainly isn't quite up to the level of some of the other things he did, but it's still an enjoyable movie to watch in its own right. It's only about 70 minutes, making it the perfect movie to watch on a cold, rainy or snowy night, when all you want to do it sit back with a bowl of popcorn and be entertained. It's got adequate suspense: even if it's not on the level of Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent, it's still entertaining. It's also got Welles' fingerprints all over it, even if he didn't get directorial credit. The stars of his Mercury Theater appear in droves. Not only is there himself and Cotten; Ruth Warrick, who plays Cotten's wife, and Agnes Moorhead show up, too. Watch for Dolores Del Rio as the femme fatale about the steamer.

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