Orson Welles

Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles performing in “The Mercury Wonder Show,” August 1943, Photo courtesy Peter Stackpole :Life MagazineWelles2Welles3Welles4Welles6Welles5

I’ve never had a friend in my life who wanted to see a magic trick, you know. I don’t know anybody who wants to see a magic trick. So I do it professionally; it’s the only way I get to perform.

I went once to a birthday party for [MGM boss] Louis B. Mayer with a rabbit in my pocket which I was going to take out of his hat. On came Judy Garland and Danny Kaye and Danny Thomas and everybody you ever heard of and then Al Jolson sang for two hours and my rabbit was peeing all over me, you know. And the dawn was starting to rise over the Hillcrest Country Club as we said goodnight to Louis B. Mayer and nobody’d asked me to do a magic trick. So the rabbit and I went home.

Touch of Evil


Rare color photo of Orson Welles during the production of the famous opening long take from Touch of Evil, one of the greatest long takes in cinematic history.

“As time has gone by, though, Touch of Evil has acquired a large cult following, and it now regularly appears on lists of the best films of the century. What is not generally known is that the film never accurately reflected Welles’s intentions for it. In July 1957, the studio took over the editing of the film and prevented him from participating in its completion. In an odd turn of events, however, a 58-page memo that Welles wrote in 1957 was recently rediscovered, and a small team on which I was film editor and sound mixer has used that remarkable document to bring Touch of Evil as close as possible to Welles’s original concept.” —Walter Murch, 1998

Touch of Evil


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.

[This is Orson Welles]

Jean-Luc Godard


Peter Bogdanovich: I think we’d better have your thoughts on Godard.
Orson Welles: Well, since you’re so very firm about it. He’s the definitive influence if not really the first film artist of this last decade, and his gifts as a director are enormous. I just can’t take him very seriously as a thinker—and that’s where we seem to differ, because he does. His message is what he cares about these days, and, like most movie messages, it could be written on the head of a pin. But what’s so admirable about him is his marvelous contempt for the machinery of movies and even movies themselves—a kind of anarchistic, nihilistic contempt for the medium—which, when he’s at his best and most vigorous, is very exciting.