Peter Bogdanovich: I’ve never seen Dietrich as she was in Touch of Evil—she transcends everything and becomes almost a mythical figure.
Orson Welles: The whole character, you know, was written after the picture started. We were well along before I even thought it up. Then I phoned Marlene and said I had a couple days’ work for her and she’d have to have dark hair because, I told her, “I liked you as a brunette in Golden Earrings.” She didn’t ask to read the script. She just said, “Well, I’ll go over to Paramount—I think that wig is still there—and then I’ll go to Metro for a dress…” The front office didn’t even know she was in the picture. You should have seen them in the projection room during the first rushes: “Hey! Isn’t that Dietrich?” and I said, “Yes.” They said, “We haven’t got her in the budget.” And I said, “No. Won’t cost you anything as long as you don’t give her billing.” They decided they wanted to and paid her to be in it. But it was up to them.
Bogdanovich: Well, it was actually a digression as far as the plot is concerned.
Welles: Yeah, but it helped it enormously. Look what that does for the film—that scene when those two suddenly encounter each other. And when she sees him floating in the bay—it makes the picture, you know.
Bogdanovich: That’s what I think. Where did the pianola come from? It seems like a remembrance of The Blue Angel.
Welles: Honestly, I wasn’t thinking of that. I’ve never seen The Blue Angel. I just think we found a pianola among the props. I think all that Dietrich part of it is as good as anything I’ve ever done in movies. When I think of that opening in New York without even a press showing… Really, Marlene was extraordinary in that. She really was the Super-Marlene. Everything she has ever been was in that little house for about four minutes there.
Marlene by Gilberte Brassaï (1937)
“You are getting so beautiful they will have to make passport pictures of you 9 feet tall. What do you really want to do for a life work? Break everybody’s heart for a dime? You could always break mine for a nickel and I’d bring the nickel.”
-Ernest Hemingway in a letter to Marlene Dietrich (1950)