Henry Mancini on the scoring of Orson Welles’s TOUCH OF EVIL
Orson Welles had a perception of everything in the film, including the music. He knew. He truly understood film scoring. ...Touch of Evil was one of the best things I've ever done.
While Orson Welles often had trouble in his dealings with producers and studio executives, he usually attracted the highest calibre of artistic collaborator, who would often turn in their best work for an Orson Welles film. This certainly was the case with Henry Mancini's score for Touch of Evil, even though Welles didn't choose him for the job, or even confer with him about the use of music in the movie. As Mancini relates in this excerpt from his autobiography Did They Mention the Music?, he was simply assigned to the picture by Joesph Gershenson, the head of the music department at Universal. Mancini then visited the set to observe Welles at work, but only met the director briefly, apparently when Welles was still working on his first cut of the picture.
However, Mancini's creative juices were still very much inspired by Welles, since the director had already written several memos to Joseph Gershenson explaining where and what type of music he wanted included in his movie. Unfortunately, by the time Mancini was actually composing the score, Welles was no longer a welcome presence on the Universal lot. As Welles later explained to Peter Bogdanovich: "The music, which I didn't have anything to do with, was, I thought, quite well done. But I wasn't there as I would normally be—like a mother hen, on every note."
It's also interesting to note that Mancini's Touch of Evil music was issued as his first movie soundtrack album, although by the time it appeared in record stores in late 1958, the film had already long been gone from movie theaters.
* Dedicated to Ray Sherman, solo pianist on TANYA'S THEME and THE BLUE (ANGEL) PIANOLA *
As the camera roves through the streets of the Mexican bordertown, the plan was to feature a succession of different and contrasting Latin American musical numbers - the effect, that is, of our passing one cabaret orchestra after another. In honky-tonk districts on the border, loudspeakers are over the entrance of every joint, large or small, each blasting out it's own tune by way of a "come-on" or "pitch" for the tourists. The fact that the streets are invariably loud with this music was planned as a basic device throughout the entire picture. The special use of contrasting "mambo-type" rhythm numbers with rock 'n' roll will be developed in some detail at the end of this memo, when I'll take up details of the "beat" and also specifics of musical color and instrumentation on a scene-by-scene and transition-by-transition basis.
—Orson Welles, from his 58-page memo
HENRY MANCINI ON SCORING TOUCH OF EVIL
From Did They Mention the Music? - Contemporary Books, 1989
I once referred to the music department at Universal as a salt mine. But it was a good salt mine, and younger composers in film today do not have access to that kind of on-the-job training. Being on staff there I was called upon to do everything. I mean, everything. Whenever they needed a piece of source music, music that comes from a source in the picture, such as a band, a jukebox, or a radio, they would call me in. I would do an arrangement on something that was in the Universal library, or I would write a new piece for a jazz band or a Latin band or whatever. I guess in every business you have to learn the routine—in film scoring, the clichés—before you can begin to find your own way.
In Yiddish vernacular, my boss, Joe Gershenson, was a shtarker, well aware of the ways of the street and the world. He produced several pictures at Universal before he became head of the music department.
…Then in 1958, I was assigned to Touch of Evil, which Orson Welles was going to direct. Welles obviously needed the money; he was always running short. He assembled a good cast, including members of his stock company from his Mercury Theater days as well as Akim Tamiroff and Marlene Dietrich. Russ Metty was the cinematographer, and he gave the picture an effective, brooding look. It was an incongruity to have Orson Welles on the same lot that gave you Bonzo, Francis the Mule, Ma and Pa Kettle, countless horrible horse operas, and all those awful Creature pictures that Herman Stein and I scored. I didn't know what he was doing there. But he knew.
As he was shooting the picture, he wrote a letter to Joe Gershenson that I wish I'd kept. It was a three-page description of the music, as he would like to have it.
I had studied the script and by now was seeing rushes of the picture, so I read the letter with great interest. Welles's description of the music as he wanted it was exactly what I was already planning to do. He wanted no scoring as such—that is to say, underscore, the disembodied music that comes from nowhere behind a scene to enhance or establish mood. All the music had to be what we call source cues. All art is based on convention. In real life people do not stop in the middle of a sentence and express their deepest emotions by singing, yet we accept such behavior in our Broadway musicals and opera. We all know that in real life when boy meets girl, an invisible string section does not begin to play softly from the sky. Yet we accept this convention on the stage, as in the case of Bizet's incidental music for L'Arlé-sienne, and in our movies. Generally speaking, underscoring in film serves to accentuate or bring out emotions in a scene. But by an unspoken convention we accept without thinking about it that the characters in the movie cannot hear this music that is bringing us to tears, or pulling us to the edge of the seat with suspense. Source music, on the other hand, is actually part of the story, music the characters can hear if they want to pay attention to it.
Orson Welles had a perception of everything in the film, including the music. He knew. He truly understood film scoring. And since he was making a grimly realistic film, I think he reasoned that even the music had to be rooted in reality. And that meant it all had to come from the story itself; it would have to be source cues.
There would be a lot of music in the picture, most of it with a big band Latin sound in a Stan Kenton vein. Realizing that the score would exceed the resources of our staff orchestra, I took the matter up with Joe. I said, "If we're going to do this right, we're going to have to go outside and hire a whole band. We just can't get the right sound with our people." Joe gave approval, and I hired Shelly Manne on drums, Jack Costanza on bongos, and a big brass section, including Conrad Gozzo, my old roommate with Tex. It was a tremendous band.
I went down on the set to observe the shooting, which I don't usually do. Watching a movie being made is unbelievably boring. It has been compared to watching paint dry. Since movies are rarely shot in chronological sequence, you get no sense of the story on a set, no sense of forward motion. The actors do the same takes over and over until they and the director are satisfied with the readings. Then the camera angle is changed, which usually takes some time, during which the actors and other crew members talk about the weather, their golf scores, their problems with their kids, or they read the racing form. Then they do the same scene again, and possibly even a third and fourth time. This is to give the director and film editor the various angles of the scene they need later for intercutting. It's interminable, it's mind numbing, and I try to have as little as possible to do with it.
I was waiting for the film and its timings. But, because of his extensive knowledge of every aspect of his profession, Welles was very interesting, so I hung around as unobtrusively as possible, and he never even noticed I was there. The exteriors were shot near the ocean at Venice, California, the interiors on a soundstage at Universal.
At last the film was nearing completion, and as it came time to score, I told Joe we should have a meeting with Welles so that we'd all know what we were doing, particularly in view of his strong feelings about the music.
It was a rainy Saturday morning, I remember. Welles swept into Joe's office in a cape and a dark hat and with a big cigar, one of those Monte Cristo giants. It seemed as if doom, the wrath of hell, was invading the music department.
Al Zugsmith was the producer of that picture. I think Al was a producer by virtue of owning stock in Decca, which owned Universal. He was a Hollywood guy, streetwise, slick, and shrewd. I could not imagine a producer as incompatible with Orson Welles as Al Zugsmith, and they had a standoffish relationship throughout the whole picture.
At last we were all together in Joe Gershenson's office. It went well enough. Joe introduced me to Welles. Al Zugsmith was sitting on a couch. Welles started to cruise the room, saying, "Here we'll do this and here we'll do that."
Then Zugsmith made some point that wasn't exactly to Welles's liking. I can't remember what it was, but I certainly remember Welles's reaction to it. He let it go by for a couple of minutes. But he walked a little faster as he talked, obviously getting his offensive up. He continued walking, faster and faster, getting angrier and angrier, and directing the stream of his fury at Al Zugsmith.
I was sitting there taking it all in. By now I was used to movie people, but this, after all, was Orson Welles, and I was working on his picture. At the height of his rage—he had just met me a half hour ago—he snapped around, looked at me, pointed a long finger at me, and said from a great height, "Who's he?"
That was my only encounter and my only conversation, if you want to call it that, with Orson Welles. After that meeting, I never saw him again.
Possibly the composer in film history most admired by film composers themselves was Hugo Friedhofer, who began scoring pictures almost when talkies were first introduced. I once wrote that a single nod from that man was worth more than all the baubles the industry could bestow. For all the Oscars and Grammys I have been awarded, perhaps nothing has pleased me more than being told by a mutual friend that Hugo respected my music.
Hugo once said, "I've known two geniuses in this industry, Orson Welles and Marlon Brando, and the industry, not knowing what to do with genius, destroys it." Hugo scored the one film Brando directed, One-Eyed Jacks. He said that the long version of the film as Brando made it was the "damnedest, different-est western I ever saw." But the studio executives chopped it down in size, removing the opening sequence that established the motive for the later events and even changing the final scenes to give it a happy ending. They took music Hugo had designed for one scene and moved it to another. The film was butchered.
A similar fate befell Touch of Evil, which nonetheless withstood the assault.
I don't think Welles ever heard the music I wrote. He didn't stick around for the recording sessions, and I have been told that he refused even to look at the picture because of his anger at what the studio had done to it. He made his final edit, what is called the director's cut, which he had the right to do, and that was it. His job was done, and he was long gone. The powers that be got their hands on the picture, and they cut it up and cut it down, taking some great stuff out of it. Some of it has been restored now and, like One-Eyed Jacks, it has become a bit of a cult picture. But the public has never seen the powerful movie that I saw when I scored it. It was a pity, but a pity all too common in Hollywood.
Touch of Evil was previewed at a theater on Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades. It was pretty rough at that time, still fairly close to Welles's cut. It was gritty. It had a course texture, a brooding sense of violence, and a drug scene, almost unheard of in those days.
Joe Gershenson told me the next day that he and Zugsmith and some of the others were having a meeting on the sidewalk when an old lady came up to them and said, "Are you gentlemen the producers of the picture?" Joe said she must have been about seventy years old, wearing a cloth coat and carrying a handbag. They said that they were indeed the producers, expecting a compliment, and all of a sudden she started flailing them with her bag and denouncing them for this work of the devil.
Touch of Evil was one of the best things I did in that period of my life. It's one of the best things I've ever done.
And it was one of the last scores I wrote on staff at Universal.
Henry Mancini's original soundtrack album for Touch of Evil was released by Challenge Records featuring these 13 selections from the movie:
1. Main Title (3:28)
2. Orson Around (2:44)
3. Blue Pianola (3:13)
4. Son of Raunchy (3:01)
5. Strollin' Blues (2:38)
6. Borderline Montuna (2:00)
7. Lease Breaker (2:45)
1. Tana's Theme (2:23)
2. Background for Murder (7:20)
3. Rock me to Sleep (2:39)
4. Ku Ku (2:41)
5. Reflection (2:59)
6. The Big Drag (2:19)
The score was conducted by Joseph Gershenson and recorded at Universal City Studios, January 17, 1958.
Original Liner Notes
THE MUSICAL SCORE FOR “TOUCH OF EVIL” is unique among motion picture scores. In the parlance of the film composer it is called “source music”, which means that the music comes from a visible source such as a juke-box, orchestra, radio, or in some cases, a player piano.
Orson Welles who not only stars in “Touch of Evil” but also directs the movie. In his discussions with the composer as to what type of music should be written, suggested that the conventional type of musical score would not be suitable for a picture of this type. In his mind, he felt an up-to-date mixture of rock and roll and Latin-jazz where needed to capture the feeling and effect of a modern Mexican border town. In this soundtrack album, you will find that his wishes were carried out and resulted in a very exciting and compelling blending of picture and music.
The music of Henry Mancini, conducted by Joseph Gershenson, with the Universal-International studio orchestra, is, in every sense the music of today.
“TOUCH OF EVIL” IS A DYNAMIC COMPELLING STORY of the narcotics underworld carried out along the United States-Mexican border. This movie packs a terrific wallop that will keep the audience continually on the edge of their seats. A series of scenes of violent intrigue, murders, and seamy characters, build up to a climax that cannot be anticipated, yet is inescapable. There are stars galore in the cast, including Charlton Heston as a special investigator for the Mexican government, and Janet Leigh as his American wife. Orson Welles in a superb make-up, is a murderous American cop. His portrayal of a thoroughly despicable character remains in the mind of the moviegoer long after the show has ended.
Co-stars are Joseph Calleia and Akim Tarmiroff with guest-stars Marlene Dietrich and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Albert Zugsmith produced and Orson Welles directed from his own screenplay, based on the novel by Whit Masterson.
In 1960 a follow-up soundtrack to Touch of Evil was released, also on Challenge Records, entitled:
The Wild Side of Henry Mancini
This LP featured several of the tracks already released on the first Touch of Evil album along with these 6 new selections:
The Boss (1:05)
Pigeon Caged (0:55)
Flashing Nuisance (1:35)
Bar Room Rock (1:14)
Something for Susan (1:38)
The Chase (1:00)
For the Citadel Records 1980 re-issue soundtrack all 19 tracks from the first two Challenge Record releases were combined on one LP. In 1993 Varese Sarabande released the first CD version of the soundtrack with this additional track:
In 1998, Blue Moon released a beautifully designed digi-pack CD that featured the original movie poster art on the cover, as well as on the CD itself, although this release had only 18 tracks, deleting these two selections:
Something for Susan (1:38)
On April 13, 2004 the U.S. Postal Service issued a 37¢ commemorative stamp to honor Henry Mancini. Touch of Evil was one of the film titles featured on the stamp.