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Magic Movie Moments: The Opening Shot of Touch of Evil

When Goodfellas what released many movie buffs marveled at the long single take of the entrance into the Copacabana…

But of course, it was only Scorsese’s footnote to the real master, Orson Welles.

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  • Auntie Analogue May 11, 2019, 4:22 PM

    The Scorsese shot appears to have been done with a Steadicam following Liotta and Bracco in a single direction, much easier to do than the far more complex and intricately choreographed Welles’ shot done with a crane/boom camera moved in three dimensions. Scorsese’s shot follows two subjects on a linear path and the people they encounter on that path are essentially stationary. On the other hand the Welles’s shot involves exquisitely delicate timing of movement of the crane camera, the “movement” of buildings in and out of frame, movement tracking and timing of several actors and the principal motor vehicle, and even entrance and exit timings of at least a score of extras. In short, Scorsese’s shot juggles one ball in the air, while Welles’s shot juggles about a dozen balls in the air.

  • Novadog May 11, 2019, 5:32 PM

    AA; that was an amazing dissection/analysis of those films. I’ve always been a fan of Wells and found your post fascinating. Thanks.

  • ghostsniper May 11, 2019, 7:22 PM

    The thing that has always attracted me to the older films and to a lesser degree, older TV shows, is the duration of the shots that allow you to see as much as you want rather than having that decision made by others. I think it was Hitchcock that emphasized the idea that the viewer needs to be a contributor, and will, if the filmer will let him, thus, hitchcock rarely showed any actual violence in his films and TV shows. Your imagination is much more intense if spurred by the director.

    I don’t watch much TV and almost no modern day TV. My wife watched a show called “BlackList” and it came on last night at 8pm. We were yappin’ on the couch when it came on so I watched about the first 30 seconds of Blacklist. That’s all I could stand before I had to literally flee the room. She sat there and continued to stare at it, mesmerized. The edits were in the 1 to 4 second range, rapid fire, with some sort of escalating music overtaking the background and I suppose they were telling a story but with that “style” of editing it was like listening with the eyes to an auctioneer while the ears were blocking just about everything out. (Like driving slowly past a car wreck and everybody in the car is yapping so you yell, “SHUT UP, I CAN’T SEE!”) Again, devolving of an art. And I’ll waste little time on it.

  • Auntie Analogue May 11, 2019, 8:40 PM

    My dear Novadog, thank you for your kind compliment.

    Another contrast between those two shots lies in their scores. Scorsese used a girl group pop song (The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me”) to suggest how Bracco is falling for Liotta’s showy effort to sweep her off her feet, while Welles used the percussive Latino syncopation of Henry Mancini’s score to add extra tension to the viewer’s awareness of the ticking time bomb in the convertible’s trunk. Indeed the opening close-up of the time bomb is scored with the bomb clock’s own ticking, which almost immediately shifts to Mancini’s Latin percussion, and when the couple who will get into the convertible enter the frame, the score introduces its menacing swell of trombones.

  • Frogdaddy May 12, 2019, 7:26 AM


    I’m beginning to think the opposite sex can not extricate itself from garbage. Mine was watching a remake of “The Predator”. I could only take so much of the gutter dialog, if you even want to consider it dialog. No substance whatsoever. I’m not an old guy and certainly not a prude. But, I was born and lived in NJ for some of my youth, I know shit when I see it. Thank God for discernment.

  • leelu May 12, 2019, 8:32 AM

    Another homage to the Wells shot is the openng shot in Robert Altman’s “The Player”. He tracks Tim Robbins across the area in front of the offices at 20th Century lot, from pulling up and parking his car thru the walk across the grass, into the offices, finally sitting at his desk. If there was a score, I don’t remember it, but there was constant chatter between Robbins and the various people talking at him.

  • Richard May 12, 2019, 8:57 AM

    The edits were in the 1 to 4 second range, rapid fire, with some sort of escalating music overtaking the background++++++++
    Two thoughts:
    1) Such is required to “hold” an audience that has had its attention span altered by the array of electronic gewgaws that hold them captive.
    2) The noise and sensory overload compensate for the dearth in quality of the writing.
    Like you, I cannot bear to have the toob on for any appreciable length of time, unless it’s something from my movie library. Said consists mostly of older offerings.
    I may be an old dude, but I’m a discerning old dude.

  • John the River May 12, 2019, 10:01 AM

    Richard, like you I have a movie ‘library’ of films. The films were selected with one criteria, would I like to watch it again someday.
    The people at my physical therapy office are nice young folks but I was shocked that none of them own any DVD’s or CD’s. Nor the equipment to play them on (so much for my offer to lend “Rob Roy” and “The Court Jester” from my library). They stream everything. If it’s not on the playlist, they don’t know about it.
    Most of the films I like to watch don’t ‘stream’.
    Nifty form of censorship by the way.

  • ghostsniper May 12, 2019, 10:50 AM

    The only time my wife and I watch TV is at supper time and we don’t watch the ongoing commercial stuff. We have 5 DVD players, 1 does international stuff, connected to a 48″ Sanyo wall mounted. It’s kind of a PITA to keep all of it organized but the alternative is not bearable.

    All of the DVD players have old TV show series in them from the 40’s, 50’s, and a few 60’s and we rotate through them each night. Most are 30 min episodes and some are 60 mins. Here’s the current line-up:

    1. The Loner, Lloyd Bridges, a 30 min western from the early 60’s. His son Jeff was in one of them and Beau in another. 5 thumbs up!
    2. High Chaparral, Leif Ericson, a 60 min western from the mid 60’s. 3 thumbs up!
    3. A Man with a Camera, Charles Bronson, a 30 min NYFC action/drama from the 50’s. 2 thumbs up!
    4. Tombstone Territory, Pat Conroy, a 30 min western from the late 50’s. 5 thumbs up!
    5. Alfred Hitchcock Presents, a 30 min suspense from the late 50’s with a variety of actors in each show, last nights episode had a young Robert Redford. 5 thumbs up!

    When amazon finally drops the price per volume (2 volumes per season) below $20 I’ll order the 14th season of Gunsmoke, as we’ve bought and watched 1-13 so far. We’ll just keep living in the past until it overtakes us, for the present isn’t living at all, not by a long stretch.

  • Gordon Scott May 13, 2019, 10:07 AM

    Wasn’t there also a rather long shot of Bruce Willis in the opening of “The Bonfire of the Vanities?” Again, more like the Goodfellas shot than the Touch of Evil shot.

  • Casey Klahn May 13, 2019, 3:11 PM

    Both now on my watch list. Thanks.

    Old movies and cinematography competed very well for our attention. Now, that has to happen on YouTube. It’s a brave new world but damn I miss the old shows.

    Recently I watched a 1992 movie (I think it was) with very long shots of the artist’s hand with the charcoal, pastel or brush. Also of the model. It was risky stuff for the director but worked great for me.

    Russian Ark was a full length movie (not five years old) all shot in one take by a guy wearing a monster camera with a counterbalance to control the weight. A full-length tour of the Hermitage in St Petersburg. Every room enters a different historical era, and there is grand pageantry with dancing, drama, etc. Insane good stuff only made great by the effort, but then you have to remember what turd-sniffers the Russians are.

  • Skorpion May 13, 2019, 5:09 PM

    Welles was a genius, and TOUCH OF EVIL was a brilliant cap to his career. But GOODFELLAS has always seemed to me to be one astonishing scene after another, where the cinematography, direction, dialogue, acting, and action combine to put the viewer in the dead-center of Henry Hill’s world. My personal favorite sequence is the “Last Day as a Wiseguy” drug-bust narrative; by the time the narc points the gun at Henry, my heartbeat and pulse were racing from the almost unbearable rush of the events.

  • Skorpion May 13, 2019, 5:11 PM

    P.S. Here’s the sequence I referred to above: https://vimeo.com/134835336