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Archive for May 21st, 2008

The idea of conflict between good and evil is central to this film and the US-Mexico divide in which the drama is played out merely is a geographical divide, and not necessarily to be taken for a moral divide. Having said this let me introduce Mr. Big and he is evil incarnate and he is also a pro. Quinlan exudes the stench of corruption from every pore of his distended, heaving carcass, yet his fellow officers are in awe of him because of his reputation. He short-cuts moral quotient if he could attain his ends. Thus he is also a pragmatist. The twist is that his outlook has been poisoned since the brutal murder of his wife, decades ago. The constant pain fuels a personal vendetta. This is, of course, no excuse, but it does partly explain the prejudice of Quinlan. Enter the Mexican lawmen Ramon ‘Mike’ Vargas and given an international incident and an unsolved crime the stage is set for sparks to fly. Both Vargas and Quinlan have reputations to protect and when it comes down to a one-on-one duel, both are willing to get their hands dirty. Now all it requires is the genius of Orson Welles to give the film its impact and enduring appeal.

The film opens with its most famous sequence. It’s an audacious, incredible, breathtaking, three-minute, uninterrupted crane tracking shot under the credits (appearing superimposed on the left of the screen). The entire tracking shot covers four blocks from start to finish. In a close-up, hands set an explosive, timed device. A shadowy figure runs and places it in the trunk of a parked convertible. The pounding of bongo drums and blare of brass instruments are heard (Henry Mancini’s score), accompanied by the ticking-tocking of the mechanism on the soundtrack. The camera pulls away sharply, identifying the car’s location – it is parked on a street in a seedy Mexican border town. An unsuspecting, wealthy American man – Rudi Linnekar (the boss of the town) and his giggling, blonde floozy, mistress/girlfriend [later, we learn she is a striptease dancer named Zita] emerge out of the background darkness and get into the car, driving off through the streets toward the US-Mexican border about four blocks away.
Through the tawdry streets Linnekar and Zita roll, until the camera smoothly picks up their passing by Mexican lawman Ramon “Mike” Vargas (Charlton Heston) and his new wife Susan (Janet Leigh). As the newly-weds cross over the border, into the US, they catch up and overtake the automobile. Just a few steps more and the car explodes in a ball of flame, casting harsh shadows. Unfortunately this is an international incident since the bomb was set in Mexico and detonated in America.
Honeymoon plans of Vargas and his wife are now ruined and he sends her to the hotel to await him while he wants to assist the local cops who have arrived at the scene. The cops are awaiting Quinlan (Orson Welles). When he finally arrives from his ranch, with his side-kick Pete Menzies (Joseph Calleia), the dead man’s daughter Marcia Linnekar (Joanna Moore) comes in to identify the remains of her father but Quinlan seems disinterested, dismissing her (with a tail). Finally turning to his fellow officers, after appraising and disregarding Vargas, Quinlan’s twitching nose takes them onto the Mexican side.
Meanwhile, Susan has been waylaid on the way to the hotel by smooth-looking Pancho (Valentin De Vargas), one of the Grandi boys. Allowing herself to be led to greasy crime-boss “Uncle Joe” Grandi (Akim Tamiroff), puts on a brave face. Since his brother is being investigated by Vargas, he wants him to lay off – a request which cuts no ice with Susan. Her husband hasn’t got much time to think about this development though because Quinlan is hot on the trail of a suspect and Vargas wants to be present. The hunch concerns Manelo Sanchez (Victor Millan), a poor Mexican worker who became involved with Marcia, severely upsetting her father. Thus Sanchez had the motive, which is enough for Quinlan. However the discovery of some damning evidence by Pete seals the case, but disturbs Vargas. He is certain that Quinlan is framing Sanchez, though he’ll have to gather some solid proof if he is to prove this (which means leaving Susan to make the best of her situation.)

We see a stunning portrait of corruption and abuse of power in the hulk of Orson Welles. As I said earlier the opening shots sets the mood and tone. Having introduced main characters early on Welles doesn’t slacken his control over its development. This technical brilliance, flaunted so early, is a driving force, opening the door to extensive range of camera angles and superb editing. Links between separate scenes are established with connecting motifs, such as doors opening or a shared musical theme. When combined with the advanced level of spatial choreography (so that every position and movement latches together into a cogent whole), the result is an extraordinary piece of film-making. There is a greater fluidity in his direction helped firmly by the strong theme and acting.

Lastly, the bizarre casting choices made for Touch of Evil show, in retrospect, a certain genius. Welles is perfect, dominating and beyond reproach, sometimes looming over the screen and sometimes shrunken like a doll. In opposition, Heston and Leigh are excellent as the disturbed newly-weds. However, special mentions must be made of Marlene Dietrich, the gypsy fortune-teller Tanya, Dennis Weaver, the motel clerk, Mercedes McCambridge, a butch gang member, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. This eclectic group of performers forms the broad-sweep of this frontier town, a setting where the weird is commonplace and disparate cultures clash. All of this gives Touch of Evil a deliciously tangy flavour, a film noir at its best. Given the unexpected opportunity to direct( since Citizen Kane had sent him to the dog-house as far as Movie moghuls were concerned), Welles grabbed the opportunity and created a masterpiece (foxing the studio executives). As usual he messed up during the editing stage, by letting the film out of his hands (cf. The Magnificent Ambersons), but now we have the chance to see his vision in all of its electrifying glory.
The version of the film that was released in 1958 with 93 minutes of running time (later revised and restored with 15 minutes of additional scenes in 1976), was disowned by director Welles, who was paid $125,000 to direct, re-write, and star in the film. Before its release by Universal International Pictures, some scenes were reshot, and the film was edited, cut and bastardized without his full approval, while he was out of town working on another project.
In 1998, the film was re-edited and/or restored based upon creator Welles’ original, newly-discovered 58 page memo of editing instructions to Universal International boss Ed Muhl. The new version did not contain new footage, but was a reconstructed “quasi-director’s cut” with re-organized, cross-cut scenes (with a total of about 50 changes). The most impressive change was that the legendary opening shot (described below) was seen without obscuring, super-imposed credits, and the blaring, distracting Henry Mancini background music during the elaborate scene was stripped away and replaced by natural source music (from doorways of dives the couple passes, or from car radios). The credits were re-positioned at the end of the sequence. Other changes included: repaired torn shots, restored sound quality, excision of “explanatory scenes” added by the studio, re-positioning and trimming of scenes, and restoration of originally-cut footage. The re-edited version, the fourth version of the film, now runs 111 minutes (compared to 93 minutes in the earliest version).(ack)
Compiler: benny

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Art and literature certainly fatten on the misery of war and calamities. Supposing we were freed completely of the consequences of war what would be the fate of Picasso’s ‘Guernica’? Had it been shown to Adam and Eve they would have simply rubbished it as the work of some madman. But we have been like phoenix several  times reborn out of the ashes of our greed and destructive acts. We have lived so long in the midst of war, and do hold an uneasy conscience. We are repelled by the horror of a war as well as attracted by the bloodletting. Art and literature work as catharsis and as moral guides to us and sometimes show that we ourselves are guilty of what we find in others repugnant. This point is well brought out by De Sica’s ‘Ladri di biciclette.’ 

Based on a novel by Luigi Bartolini, Vittorio De Sica’s (1901-1974) Italian neorealist film, The Bicycle Thief is a milestone in Italian cinema. This drama of desperation and survival in Italy’s devastating post-war depression earned a special Oscar for its affecting power. Shot in the streets and alleys of Rome, De Sica uses the real-life environment of contemporary life to frame his moving drama of a desperate father Ricci trying to get a job to support his family. He lands a good paying job, but he must have a bicycle. Sometime before, Ricci pawned his bicycle to feed his family. His loyal wife pawns her sheets to obtain the money to get the bike back. He gets his bike and the job,. It involves delivering cinema posters ( Rita Hayworth flyers, no less!) around the city and pasting  them on the wall. While straightening out a wall poster some one steals his bicycle. Too poor to buy another, he and his son take to the streets in an impossible search for his bike. In his desperate search to recover his stolen bicycle, he looses his decorum, his principles, and ultimately the respect of his son; he harms his marriage and his relationship to his son, perhaps irreparably; and he almost loses his son to a pedophile, to drowning, and then to speeding cars.

One of the crucial moral dilemma of a war is that it puts man’s life on the razor’s edge and for a loaf of bread he might be forced to steal or even kill. Must a man be tempted beyond what he may endure? Ricci steals a bicycle since his livelihood revolves around his own that was lost. He may not have thought of its influence on a long-range on his son. The  film is a white hot moral thriller where a series of bad decisions compound on one another from bad to worse and not stopping for ninety straight minutes.

One memorable scene goes like thus: Ricci takes his son into a restaurant with the little money he has. They order a meager lunch. Sitting next to them was a wealthy family. The rich little boy was trying to show off with all the good food he had. Bruno took his mozzarella toast and made it look like it was the best meal ever—his smile back to the rich kid said it all!

 Cast with nonactors and filled with the real street life of Rome, this landmark film helped define the Italian neorealist approach with its mix of real life details, poetic imagery, and warm sentimentality. De Sica uses the wandering pair to witness the lives of everyday folks, but ultimately he paints a quiet, poignant portrait of father and son, played Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola, whose understated performances carry the heart of the film. De Sica and scenarist Cesare Zavattini also collaborated on Shoeshine, Miracle in Milan, and Umberto D, all classics in the neorealist vein, but none of which approach the simple poetry and quiet power achieved in The Bicycle Thief.

De Sica shot his film entirely on location in the streets and alleys of Rome. De Sica refused to cut two scenes from the film, which were considered obscene at the time. In the first, Bruno attempts to relieve himself against a wall. In the second, Antonio finds the thief into the kitchen of a brothel. Hollywood nevertheless awarded the movie a special Oscar. (ack: G.Merrit, Sean Axmaker)

Compiler: benny

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