Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)

In this famous opening scene consisting of a single 3-minute 20-second tracking shot with no cuts, the camera follows two couples, one of which is going to be killed in the next shot.

The first image is of a hand on a bomb’s timer. The owner of the hand turns around at the sound of a woman’s laughter and we see a man and a woman walking towards him. He quickly hides away and places the bomb in a car and disappears before the couple get in.

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TOUCH_OF_EVIL_03TOUCH_OF_EVIL_04Meanwhile the camera pulls up high and then back as the car slowly turns to the road that leads to the American border in this Mexican town. On the dark sidewalk, we notice another couple happily walking. The camera momentarily abandons the couple in the car and focuses on them: Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh -the timer on the bomb is ticking and we know they will not be hurt. But how are they going to be involved in the story? From here onwards, the camera dances between the two couples; sometimes the car will come into view and lead the way and at other times the walking couple will catch up and pass. It feels as if the bomb is going to explode any minute and we wonder where the camera will choose to be at that specific moment.

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And the first dialogue we hear starts when the border police asks, ‘You folks American citizens?’, to which Janet Leigh replies, ‘I am’. Almost offended by the police calling her ‘Miss’, she swiftly corrects him: ‘Missus’. It appears that Susan (Janet Leigh) and Mike (Charlton Heston) Vargas has just married.

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But before the newly weds have enough time to kiss once again, the bomb explodes. (And there is the film’s second shot.)

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