Peter Bogdanovich: I’ve never seen Dietrich as she was in Touch of Evil—she transcends everything and becomes almost a mythical figure. Orson Welles: The whole character, you know, was written after the picture started. We were well along before I even thought it up. Then I phoned Marlene and said I had a couple days’ work for her and she’d have to have dark hair because, I told her, “I liked you as a brunette in Golden Earrings.” She didn’t ask to read the script. She just said, “Well, I’ll go over to Paramount—I think that wig is still there—and then I’ll go to Metro for a dress…” The front office didn’t even know she was in the picture. You should have seen them in the projection room during the first rushes: “Hey! Isn’t that Dietrich?” and I said, “Yes.” They said, “We haven’t got her in the budget.” And I said, “No. Won’t cost you anything as long as you don’t give her billing.” They decided they wanted to and paid her to be in it. But it was up to them. Bogdanovich: Well, it was actually a digression as far as the plot is concerned. Welles: Yeah, but it helped it enormously. Look what that does for the film—that scene when those two suddenly encounter each other. And when she sees him floating in the bay—it makes the picture, you know. Bogdanovich: That’s what I think. Where did the pianola come from? It seems like a remembrance of The Blue Angel. Welles: Honestly, I wasn’t thinking of that. I’ve never seen The Blue Angel. I just think we found a pianola among the props. I think all that Dietrich part of it is as good as anything I’ve ever done in movies. When I think of that opening in New York without even a press showing… Really, Marlene was extraordinary in that. She really was the Super-Marlene. Everything she has ever been was in that little house for about four minutes there.
Peter Bogdanovich: Was it true that one director told you not to call them “movies,” but “motion pictures”?
Orson Welles: Ah, that was a friend of yours, Peter—that was George Cukor, and remember, he was from the New York stage. That probably had something to do with it. Nowadays, I’m afraid the word is rather chic. It’s a good English word, though—“movie.” How pompous it is to call them “motion pictures.” I don’t mind “films,” though, do you?
Peter Bogdanovich: No, but I don’t like “cinema.”
Orson Welles: I know what you mean. In the library of Eleonora Duse’s villa in a little town in Veneto where we’ve been shooting just now [The Merchant of Venice], I found an old book—written in 1915—about how movies are made, and it refers to movie actors as “photoplayers.” How about that? Photoplayers! I’m never going to call them anything else.
Peter Bogdanovich: I have a book from 1929, and they list 250 words to describe a talking picture, asking readers to write in their favorites. And “talkie” was only one of them. Others were things like “actorgraph,” “reeltaux,” and “narrative toned pictures.”
Orson Welles: I went with my father to the world premiere in New York of Warner’s first Vitaphone sound picture, which was Don Juan starring Jack Barrymore. I think it was opening night. It was really a silent, with a synchronized sound track full of corny mood music, horse hooves, and clashing swords. But it was preceded by a few short items of authentic talkies—Burns and Allen, George Jessel telephoning his mother, and Giovanni Martinelli ripping the hell out of Pagliacci. My father lasted about half an hour and then went up the aisle dragging me with him. “This,” he said, “ruins the movies forever.” He never went back to a movie theatre as long as he lived.
There’s a lot of old Dick Cavett interviews on Youtube and a lot of them are rather good. This is the first of a number of clips with Orson Welles and listening to that guy put together sentences is incredible. They don’t make them like that any more and maybe they never did. Awesome watch.