Scenes That I Love: The Opening Tracking Shot from Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil


I’m pretty sure that I’ve shared this scene before but, if I did, it was several years ago.  Through the Shattered Lens has been around for nearly ten years now, after all.  (TEN YEARS!)

Since today is Orson Welles’s birthday, I wanted to share at least one scene that I love from his films.  Even though I didn’t want to go with the obvious choice of picking something from Citizen Kane, there was still a wealth of scenes to choose from.  But, in the end, I really didn’t have any choice but to go with the tracking shot that opens 1958’s Touch of Evil.

This scene really does show why Welles was such an important director.  It’s not just that the scene is a masterpiece of suspense, starting out with a close-up of a ticking time bomb and then leaving us to wonder just when exactly it’s going to explode.  It’s also that the scene perfectly sets up the odd and sordid atmosphere of Touch of Evil.  It’s a scene that begins in America, takes the viewer into Mexico, and then literally ends with a bang.  And it does it all in just one shot!

Because of a throw-away joke in Ed Wood, there’s a widely-held but incorrect assumption that Welles was forced to cast Charlton Heston in the lead role in Touch of Evil or that Welles and Heston didn’t get along.  Actually, Heston was the one who fought for Welles to be given a chance to direct Touch of Evil and, when the studios attempted to fire Welles from the project, Heston stopped them by announcing that he would quite if Welles wasn’t allowed to complete the picture.  It may be tempting to make jokes about Heston playing a Mexican cop but, if not for him, this film probably wouldn’t exist right now.  And that would be a tragedy.

With all that said and done, here’s a scene that I love:

4 Shots From 4 Orson Welles Films: Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, Chimes at Midnight, The Other Side of the Wind


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

104 years ago today, the man who forever change not only American cinema but world cinema, George Orson Welles, was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  Beloved by film students while often being unappreciated by mainstream audiences, Orson Welles was responsible for some of the greatest and most important films of all time.  As so often happens to the innovators and the creators, the film industry conspired to silence him.

Fortunately, his legacy has survived even the greatest of efforts to destroy it.  Though he may have died 34 yeas ago, Welles lives on and continues to inspire filmmakers everywhere.

In honor of that legacy, it’s time for….

4 Shots From 4 Orson Welles Films

Citizen Kane (1941, dir by Orson Welles)

Touch of Evil (1958, dir by Orson Welles)

Chimes at Midnight (1965, dir by Orson Welles)

The Other Side of the Wind (2018, dir by Orson Welles)

6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Pictures: The 1950s


The Governor’s Ball, 1958

Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1950s.

The Third Man (1950, dir by Carol Reed)

Now, it should be noted that The Third Man was not ignored by the Academy.  It won the Oscar for Best Cinematography and it was nominated for both editing and Carol Reed’s direction.  But, even with that in mind, it’s somewhat amazing to consider all of the nominations that it didn’t get.  The screenplay went unnominated.  So did the famous zither score.  No nominations for Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, or even Orson Welles!  And finally, no Best Picture nomination.  1950 was a good year for the movies so competition was tight but still, it’s hard to believe that the Academy found room to nominate King Solomon’s Mines but not The Third Man.

Rear Window (1954, dir by Alfred Hitchcock)

Alfred Hitchcock directed some of his best films in the 50s, though few of them really got the recognition that they deserved upon their initial release.  Vertigo is often described as being Hitchcock’s masterpiece but, to be honest, I actually prefer Rear Window.  This film finds the master of suspense at his most playful and, at the same time, at his most subversive.  Casting Jimmy Stewart as a voyeur was a brilliant decision.  This film features one of my favorite Grace Kelly performances.  Meanwhile, Raymond Burr is the perfect schlubby murderer.  Like The Third Man, Rear Window was not ignored by the academy.  Hitchcock was nominated and the film also picked up nods for its screenplay, cinematography, and sound design.  However, it was not nominated for best picture.

Rebel Without A Cause (1955, dir by Nicholas Ray)

Nicholas Ray’s classic film changed the way that teenagers were portrayed on film and it still remains influential today.  James Dean is still pretty much the standard to which most young, male actors are held.  Dean was not nominated for his performance here.  (He was, however, nominated for East of Eden that same year.)  Instead, nominations went to Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood, and the film’s screenplay.  Amazingly, in the same year that the forgettable Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing was nominated for best picture, this popular and influential film was not.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955, dir by Robert Aldrich)

It’s unfortunate but not surprising that Kiss Me Deadly was totally ignored by the Academy.  In the mid-to-late 50s, the Academy tended to embrace big productions.  There was no way they were going to nominate a satirical film noir that featured a psychotic hero and ended with the end of the world.  That’s a shame, of course, because Kiss Me Deadly has proven itself to be more memorable and influential than many of the films that were nominated in its place.

Touch of Evil (1958, dir by Orson Welles)

Speaking of underappreciated film noirs, Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil is one of the craftiest and most brilliant films ever made.  So, of course, no one appreciated it when it was originally released.  This cheerfully sordid film features Welles at his best.  Starting with a memorable (and oft-imitated) tracking shot, the film proceeds to take the audience into the darkest and most eccentric corners of a small border town.  Everyone in the cast, from the stars to the bit players, is memorably odd.  Even the much mocked casting of Charlton Heston as a Mexican pays off wonderfully in the end.

The 400 Blows (1959, dir by Francois Truffaut)

Francois Truffaut’s autobiographical directorial debut was released in the United States in 1959 and it was Oscar-eligible.  Unfortunately, it only picked up a screenplay nomination.  Of course, in the late 50s, the last thing that the Academy was going to embrace was a French art film from a leftist director.  However, The 400 Blows didn’t need a best picture nomination to inspire a generation of new filmmakers.

Up next, in an hour or so, we continue on to the 60s!

 

4 Shots From 4 Films: Happy Birthday Orson Welles


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking. The cinematic genius Orson Welles was born on this date in 1915. Welles was also a noted magician, and used mirrors as a motif in many of his movies. Here are four reflective shots from The Films of Orson Welles:

Citizen Kane (RKO 194)

The Lady from Shanghai (Columbia 1947)

Touch of Evil (Universal 1958)

F For Fake (Janus Films 1975)

Scenes I Love: Touch of Evil (dir. by Orson Welles)


Yesterday, I posted a tracking shot from Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend.  Today, I want to offer up another great tracking shot, this one from a much better director and a much better movie: Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.  This 3 and a half-minute, unedited tracking shot begins in the United States and ends in Mexico.  It also starts off one of the greatest films of all time.