How Welles snuck another cinematic masterstroke into his picture.
Everyone who knows anything about the long take is familiar with the opening scene of Orson Welles’ simmering noir Touch of Evil in which a time bomb is planted in a car to later explode; it is without a doubt the most famous example of the technique, so much so it’s mentioned during the second-most famous example, Robert Altman’s opening to The Player. But for all the attention the Touch of Evil opening garners, it isn’t the only one in the film, and in fact, it isn’t the longest. The opening clocks in at three-and-a-half minutes, but later in the film there is a 12-minute long take that most folks don’t even think of, thanks to the subtlety with which Welles and his cinematographer Russell Metty constructed it.
The scene takes place in the apartment of Sanchez (Victor Millan), a Mexican shoe clerk who is accused of planting the bomb. As he tries to establish his innocence, the men of Quinlan (Welles) search the place and eventually turn up some dynamite that was pretty obviously planted. All during this conversation, discovery, and the consequences of both the camera never cuts, which was a decidedly trickier accomplishment than the opening sequence because of environment: the opening is an exterior shot in constant motion; the apartment scene is entirely interior and mostly still.
Just how Welles and Metty pulled off the scene (in a single day, the first of shooting, no less), and more so how they managed to make it an invisible counterbalance to the obvious technique of the opening is the focus of yet another exhaustively insightful scene dissection from wolfcrow. Anyone who appreciates the artistry of the opening will be blown away at the mastery of the apartment scene, which deserves equal consideration as the greatest long take in cinema history. Get to know the intricacies and brilliance of it below.