The stock players from Orson Welles, Mercury Theatre Company bring Eric Ambler’s Journey Into Fear to the screen. Often direction for this film is attributed to Welles, but in later life he denied this. Regardless of who directed this movie, it is still a tidy little thriller with pretty good performances.
Here’s the plot. In a hotel room a phonograph hisses and whirs, playing an old copy of Chagrin d’Amour, when the needle sticks, and the same line of the record is repeated again and again. It’s all rather hypnotic and annoying. But the hotel patron isn’t paying attention. His mind is on other things because he is a professional killer preparing for a hit. His name is Benat (Jack Moss).
Meanwhile an American couple, Howard and Stephanie Graham (Joseph Cotten and Ruth Warrick) arrive in Istanbul. Howard Graham works for Bainbridge and Sons, an armaments company. At the hotel, the companies Istanbul representative, Kopeikin (Everett Sloane), meets Graham and shepherds him off to a nightclub, without his wife (to discuss business, naturally). At the nightclub, Graham is lured onto the stage by a magician performing a disappearance act. The ‘trick’ works, but the magician ends up dead with a knife in his back.
All the patrons of the nightclub are sent before the much feared Head Of Secret Police, Colonel Haki (Orson Welles). Haki pays particular attention to Graham, who he believes was the intended target of the murder. Before Graham can get into any more trouble, Haki has put him on a steamer to Batum. It appears a notorious Nazi operating in the area, named Müeller has hired Benat to kill Graham, so it is imperative that Graham get out quickly, and not by the regular routes. Haki promises to take care of Graham’s wife and have her meet him safely in Batum. Kopeikin escorts Graham to the steamer, and at the gangplank wishes him good luck and gives him a pistol.
I must admit, that I love this kind of film. This is one of those ones where various characters from differing backgrounds make a journey together. Some are good. Some are bad, and some are simply along for the ride. Recently I looked at Sleeping Car To Trieste which is in a similar vein, another popular example would be the Humphrey Bogart’s film Across The Pacific.
Any film with Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles is going to compared to The Third Man. Journey Into Fear is obviously not in that class. The Third Man is a classic, but Journey Into Fear is a worthy companion piece. It is a little more simplistic, but that’s not a bad thing. If you like old fashioned suspense thrillers, this film is definitely worth a look.
Incidently, Journey Into Fear was remade in 1975 with Sam Waterston in the role as Graham.