Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tuesdays forgotten film: The Fountain of Youth (1958)

This 27 minute tv episode was written, directed, designed and narrated (on screen and in voice over) by Orson Welles. It was intended as the pilot for an anthology series that would have resulted in a new Orson Welles short movie every week, I guess in a similar manner to his astonishing Mercury Theatre on the Air radio show. Unfortunately Welles never quite broke into television, leaving us with two brief BBC series and a handful of pilots.

Despite never being picked up as a series, the episode won a Peabody award for Best Comedy. Ahead of his time as usual, Welles anticipated such series as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Thriller with this anthology idea.

The Fountain of Youth, based on a story by John Collier, concerns a love triangle involving a scientist who has apparently found a way to halt the aging process. The story is quite clever, although its twist ending is rather predictable. More fascinating is the way that Welles gets around his tiny budget and short running time. There is constant and very clever use of backdrops, mostly taken from photographs, and he deliberately calls attention to this in a way that anticipates and defuses criticism.

He also manages to pack an awful lot of backstory into the first few minutes through the use of still photographs and his own expert narration, seguing brilliantly into the more conventional sequences that make up the main story. The sound of his voice coming from Joi Lansing's lips at one point is very funny indeed.

This really is one more for Orson Welles fanatics than for the more casually interested. The copy I saw was taken from what seemed to be bootleg VHS with some tape damage and an intrusive watermark running across the bottom of the screen. But if you're the sort of person who longs to trawl through all the raw footage of The Other Side of the Wind and Don Quixote, this is for you.

There's only a six-minute clip on YouTube. However, it can be found if you know where to look.


Part of Todd Mason's Tuesday's Forgotten Films lineup. Thanks Todd!


  1. I think you give Welles a little too much pioneering credit here...SUSPENSE and LIGHTS OUT, for example, had already had television extensions of their radio-anthology runs by the early '50s, and the likes of TALES OF TOMORROW had already come and gone, quite aside from the many eclectic anthologies that ran through the 1950s on US tv, but it definitely sounds like something I'd like to see...and a pity it wasn't greenlit as a series.

  2. Intriguing! I will have to check this out. I do like Welles when he's on and that tongue in cheek sense of fun usually works well.

  3. Wow. Overlooked Welles. That's OVERLOOKED!

  4. Todd: I really didn't make this clear at all, but what I meant was that this specific story was the kind of thing that those shows specialised in, rather than that this was the first anthology show. Sorry about that.