Friday, October 10, 2008


In a previous post, I noted that the opening of Touch of Evil in its original version -- before the 1998 version removed the credits and the musical scoring -- has some similarities to the opening of Douglas Sirk's Written On the Wind, another Universal film produced by exploitation-meister Albert Zugsmith. I thought I would illustrate that by posting both openings.

Now, of course these openings are clearly the work of two very different directors making two very different films (and both are brilliantly and differently photographed by Russell Metty). What's similar is the way the openings are structured:

- Before the credits begin, we see someone who appears to be up to no good -- a drunk driver, a bomber. We also get to see some visual motifs that will recur throughout the film: the phallic oil machinery in Written, the moving shadows in Touch.

- Once the guy does what he was trying to do in the opening shot -- the drunk driver arrives at his destination, the bomber plants the bomb in the car -- the credits begin and the theme music kicks in.

- During the credits, we meet the lead characters; we know something bad is about to happen, but we don't yet know exactly what's going on or who these people are.

- Soon after the credits are over, the bad thing happens: in Written someone gets shot; in Touch of Evil the bomb explodes.

So while Touch of Evil is very much an Orson Welles film, it's also very clearly a Universal picture of the late '50s, and Zugsmith very clearly applied the same ideas to the opening of Touch that he'd already used in the opening of Written On the Wind. It's one of the reasons I object to the idea behind the 1998 version; by taking Welles's memo as gospel, it robs the picture of its identity as a late '50s Universal production. (I know that the producers of that version have said that they didn't intend it to supplant other versions, but the fact is, it did for many years; that became the only version available on DVD until now, and many viewers mistakenly think that the 1998 version is a "director's cut," when it's nothing of the kind.)

So, Written On the Wind opening:

Touch of Evil opening:

1 comment:

Thad said...

I'm one of the many who has referred to it as a "director's cut," but it was just as a name. Should it be "sycophant cut" instead? The film works way better in its theatrical form anyway (haven't viewed the preview version).