Orson Welles wrote, directed and co-starred in “Touch of Evil” in 1958, at the end of what might be considered film noir’s golden era. It was right at the end of Welles’ golden era, too. He had been packing on the pounds by this point in his career, and was also drinking too much. In fact, the most exercise he got in the whole decade was a three-minute-twenty-second tracking shot.
Welles’ massive girth in “Touch of Evil” is actually more the result of padding and makeup than actual weight gain, but it wouldn’t be long before he’d be doing his own stunts. As spokesman for Paul Masson wines a decade or so later, he didn’t need the help of the makeup department to look like a guy who could put an all-you-can-eat buffet out of business.
Break out the Paul Masson for a “Cheers” to the lineup! Welles and Charlton Heston (playing a Mexican) are joined by names like Janet Leigh, Ray Collins, Dennis Weaver, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Marlene Dietrich and Joseph Cotten. A cast like that makes a toast mandatory, even if it is jug wine.
I understand the film was shot at night to minimize the number of studio executives hanging around the set. Welles was no fan of suits, and he felt that if his shooting schedule conflicted with prime schmoozing time, they’d stay out of his hair. If it hadn’t been for that, the movie may not have been a film noir at all, but a film du jour.
The film’s noirishness is defined by by the dingy, dusty setting of the fictional Border City. It’s worth noting that actual border towns like Tijuana apparently were not run-down and seedy enough, so the movie was shot in Venice – which isn’t exactly a highlight for the Chamber of Commerce brochure.
Janet Leigh broke her arm before filming started, which caused some difficulty in shooting her scenes. The cast on her arm had to be removed for some of the shots and replaced afterward. It might have had some people thinking that she was told to “break a leg,” and missed. Leigh’s agent reportedly enraged the actress by giving the role a pass on her behalf. She felt being directed by a legend was worth more than money. Maybe she broke her arm while instructing her agent to get back on the phone.
Let’s choose a wine for “Touch of Evil” before somebody unscrews the cap on a “Hearty Burgundy.”
Washington’s Gorman Winery has a 70/30 blend of Red Mountain Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon called Evil Twin. The 65-dollar question is, which grape is evil?
Other evil choices:
Evil Wine – This respected line from R Wines is made by South Australia winemaker Chris Ringland.
Pinot Evil – The little-known fourth monkey in the “hear no, see no, speak no” series.
Paul Masson commercial – This is the “Citizen Kane” of Orson Welles outtakes. He just seems drunk, though, not evil.