Sunday, January 14, 2018

Don't Make a Scene: Touch of Evil

The Set-up: You read Orson Welles' final revised script (dated February 5, 1957) for "Badge of Evil"—which would soon be called Touch of Evil—and this scene isn't even there. In fact, the character of "Tana"—as played by old friend of Welles, Marlene Dietrich—isn't even in the script. There is mention of a "Madame Lupe", but she isn't featured much, let alone given the three lingering scenes, including the finale and the last line of the film, as is Dietrich's character. 

The actress made the role. With her addition to the cast (unbeknownst to the producers or the money-men at Universal...who were delighted that they could claim that she was in it and happily paid for the privilege), Welles expanded the part and used it to add a tragic, melancholy air to his own character of corrupt police captain Hank Quinlan, humanizing the "heavy." Bringing nuance to his monster.

Welles (and Heston) talk about Touch of Evil and Marlene Dietrich
and ties it up with a chuckling " another 'flawed masterpiece?'"

Dietrich had just done an Oscar-nominated turn for her pal Billy Wilder in Witness for the Prosecution, a role that surprised many people—she was always a star for a couple decades, but she was becoming a cunning character actress. Welles phoned her the night before shooting to see if she wanted to be in it. A third person account from Rupert Everett via Welles runs like this: "Orson Welles once told me about the day he called Marlene and asked her to be in "Touch Of Evil" - that afternoon. She jumped out of bed, rushed over to Paramount to consult with her Svengali, Travis Banton (the well-known costumer). Together they ransacked the wardrobe department for a hat and a shawl and a couple of wigs, and then she drove like a wild thing down to the border and shot in the afternoon".  

How true that is (not to doubt Everett, but Welles loved embellishing a good story) is subject to speculation. Dietrich shot her scenes after sundown, and Welles is said to have been "stunned" by the black-wigged Dietrich when he saw her for the first time on-set. Everett's story doesn't give much time for Welles to re-write the part for her, but Dietrich's pulling the wardrobe together so quickly is impressive. She thought all of her scenes that night...and Universal didn't know it until they'd seen the day's 'rushes." A call was placed to Dietrich about her price and her reply was that is they didn't use her name in the credits her pay would be Union scale...but if they DID mention her, then they'd have to talk to her agent. Dietrich's marquee value was enough for Universal to pay the extra sum.

She would do only three more film roles, the most substantial being Stanley Kramer's film of Judgment at Nuremberg, and her last, 1978's Just a Gigolo with David Bowie.

The Story: Boom! An explosion has occurred on the U.S./Mexican border; a bomb has blown up a car, killing construction boss Rudy Linnekar (Jeffrey Green) and a female companion, a local "exotic dancer" (Joi Lansing), as they were crossing from Mexico to the U.S. Jurisdiction may be a problem—the bomb was planted in Mexico, but exploded in the States in the border town of Los Robles. Minutes after the bombing, Los Robles Police Captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) lumbers to the scene and announces his suspicions that crime may be the work of the Grandi family, who deal narcotics. And by coincidence, one of the witnesses to the bombing is Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston), of the Pan-American Narcotics Commission, and he's been investigating the Grandi's. The local district attorney (Ray Collins) brokers an uneasy alliance between the two investigators to determine who planted the bomb...and why. They start by crossing the border and interrogating the locals.


- [Pianola]
HANK QUINLAN [Grunting] We're wasting our time around here.
ADAIR Oh, I wouldn't say that.
ADAIR Well, good night, my dear. -
GOULD What happened to Menzies and Vargas? -
SCHWARTZ I don't know. -
ADAIR I'll give you a call. There may be more questions. - 
SCHWARTZ They'll show up. -
HANK QUINLAN Hmm, a pianola.
ADAIR Hank, we-we go this way, you know?
HANK QUINLAN Tana still... open for business?
SCHWARTZ I don't know what Quinlan thinks she's got to do with it.
ADAIR Tana? Oh, maybe she'll cook chili for him...
ADAIR ...or bring out the crystal ball.
[Pianola Continues]
TANA We're closed. -
HANK QUINLAN You been cookin' at this hour? -
TANA Just cleanin' up.
HANK QUINLAN Have you forgotten your old friend, hmm? -
TANA I told you we were closed. -
HANK QUINLAN I'm Hank Quinlan.
TANA I didn't recognize you. -
TANA You should lay off those candy bars. -
HANK QUINLAN [Grunting] It's either the candy or the hootch.
HANK QUINLAN I must say, I wish it was your chili I was getting fat on.
HANK QUINLAN Anyway, you're sure lookin' good. -
TANA You're a mess, honey. -
HANK QUINLAN That pianola sure brings back memories.
TANA The customers go for it. So old, it's new.
TANA We got the television, too.
TANA Rerun movies.
TANA What can I offer you?
HANK QUINLAN You haven't heard anything about that bomb, have you?
TANA That happened on your side of the border.
HANK QUINLAN In a place like this, you hear things. -
TANA I heard the explosion. -
HANK QUINLAN Well, when this case is over, I must come around some night and sample some of your chili.
TANA Better be careful. May be too hot for you.
MENZIES Oh, Hank! Looks like our friend Vargas ran into some trouble. - 
MENZIES In the alley behind the nightclub.

Touch of Evil

Words by Orson Welles

Pictures by Russell Metty and Orson Welles

Touch of Evil is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Universal Studios.

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