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Touch of Evil: The rewarding experience of Orson Welles's world


Touch of Evil: Welles's ideas for the opening scene
Walter Murch Film-maker
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He particularly wanted to change the whole music at the beginning of Touch of Evil, which had a title sequence, and a Henry Mancini score. It's kind of a famous score. Welles didn't want this. He wanted no titles at the beginning. And he wanted the characters of Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh to be discovered walking through this border town in a famous travelling shot that lasts three minutes and 12 seconds, or something, and ends with them crossing the border from Mexico into the United States.

And then, the car that we have also been tracking, also goes through immigration. And then, blows up on the other side because we know a bomb has been planted in it. The significant difference, I think, in Welles's mind, reading into the memo, is that if we know a bomb is in the trunk of the car, and we know this is a title sequence, and the music says: this is a title sequence, we know the bomb is not going to explode until the title sequence is over. Whereas, if the music is a piecemeal construction of various source music, the music from a night club, the music from a record shop, the music from a passing bandalero, you know, just this kind of out-of-focus pools of sound that go with the pools of light that the camera is moving through that we can't predict when, really, when the bomb is going to explode. And there's a moment where the car passes very close to Janet Leigh and Charlton Heston. The car itself has a radio in it that's playing music. And so we know that's the car that has the bomb in it. Maybe it's going to explode right now. So anyway, it adds a layer of tension to the opening three minutes that is missing in the original construction, as the studio had it.

Born in 1943 in New York City, Murch graduated from the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television. His career stretches back to 1969 and includes work on Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I, II, and III, American Graffiti, The Conversation, and The English Patient. He has been referred to as 'the most respected film editor and sound designer in modern cinema.' In a career that spans over 40 years, Murch is perhaps best known for his collaborations with Francis Ford Coppola, beginning in 1969 with The Rain People. After working with George Lucas on THX 1138 (1971), which he co-wrote, and American Graffiti (1973), Murch returned to Coppola in 1974 for The Conversation, resulting in his first Academy Award nomination. Murch's pioneering achievements were acknowledged by Coppola in his follow-up film, the 1979 Palme d'Or winner Apocalypse Now, for which Murch was granted, in what is seen as a film-history first, the screen credit 'Sound Designer.' Murch has been nominated for nine Academy Awards and has won three, for best sound on Apocalypse Now (for which he and his collaborators devised the now-standard 5.1 sound format), and achieving an unprecedented double when he won both Best Film Editing and Best Sound for his work on The English Patient. Murch’s contributions to film reconstruction include 2001's Apocalypse Now: Redux and the 1998 re-edit of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil. He is also the director and co-writer of Return to Oz (1985). In 1995, Murch published a book on film editing, In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, in which he urges editors to prioritise emotion.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Touch of Evil, Henry Mancini

Duration: 2 minutes, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017