Calorically Challenged

Fans of Orson WellesTouch of Evil never mention something that has always seemed odd and repugnant to me. Welles plays a cynical, unshaven and obese police captain named Hank Quinlan…but his appearance is a bit much. He looks like a 60 year-old homeless guy who’s been chain-smoking, guzzling straight whiskey and eating french fries and Haagen-Dazs his entire life, and yet Welles was only 42 when he directed Touch of Evil. 42!

I’ve never read anything about Welles inhaling pasta dishes for two or three months before shooting Evil in 1957 so he’d be as whale-sized as possible. He looks much fatter and saggier than 36 year-old Robert De Niro did when he packed it on for Raging Bull. It makes you wonder what kind of life Welles was living back then. What reasonably healthy 42 year-old today looks even half this gross? The only thing Welles didn’t do in Touch With Evil to make himself more Skid Row-ish was to sprinkle vomit traces on his shirt and tie.


(l.) Welles in Touch of Evil, age 42; (r.) Ten years earlier during filming of The Lady From Shanghai, age 32.

Wells to Lazarus, goodvibe61, reverent & free (update): The photos below dispute your “it was just a fatsuit and fat-face makeup” story. Welles was fairly Quinlan-sized in The Long Hot Summer, which came out in May 1958 also. He may have worn a slight fatsuit prosthetic for Evil, as you claim, but he clearly didn’t need much of one.


(l.) Welles in Evil (l.); in The Long Hot Summer (r.)
  • lazarus

    Uhh, I thought it was common knowledge that Welles had a lot of padding and make-up while filming Touch Of Evil. Go search for pics of him from 1958; he wasn’t anywhere near that fat.

    Haven’t you ever heard the story where he went to a Hollywood party while still in costume and make-up and everyone was shocked at how awful he looked?

  • goodvibe61

    He’s wearing something like 50 pounds or more of makeup for the role, and a large prosthetic on his face!

    There’s another story that Welles tells Bogdanovich on the audio version of This is Orson Welles, where he comes home late from the long day of filming, still in his fat suit and prosthetic, and late for a dinner party he had planned. One of the actresses waiting for him approaches him and says “Orson, you look wonderful!”.

    Easily one of my favorite films of all time. For me, it’s the greatest noir of them all (over Night of the Hunter and Criss Cross). It’s a titanic piece of work; the superb writing, wonderful performances, the intricate and at times dazzling work of Russell Metty, that tremendous score by Mancini. It really does have it all.

  • reverent and free

    What lazarus said. Specifically addressed by Leigh in a 1998 documentary for the restored cut.

  • http://ebiri.blogspot.com Bilge Ebiri

    Welles was definitely heavy during this period, but not nearly as comically rotund as he is in TOUCH OF EVIL. If you look at other work from this time (COMPULSION, THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH TV show, THE ROOTS OF HEAVEN) he’s a much more mundane kind of fat — closer to your example of De Niro in RAGING BULL, I guess.

  • Floyd Thursby

    “You’re a mess, honey. Been eating too much candy.”

  • Super Soul

    Isn’t this like saying that fans of Rear Window never seem to mention that Jimmy Stewart is in a wheelchair? It’s not like this is Kilmer’s elbow. I almost always find Welles’s appearance coming up in any discussion of the film.

  • Marty Melville

    He was made up (the nose, mainly) and wearing some padding for Touch of Evil but those jowls are his and his alone.

    Just seven years later in the great Chimes of Midnight he didn’t need any padding at all to play Falstaff. He was just a year older than Brad Pitt is today.

  • Edward

    What a brave performance, making himself horribly ugly in demeanor and look. One of the great films.

  • trollywood

    Super Soul–Kilmer’s elbow? I don’t get the reference.

  • The Pope

    Trollywood,

    Check out Heat. Specifically the scene where de Niro comes home to find Val sleeping out on his floor. You will see an enormous lump on Kilmer’s elbow. I mean, something the size of Mount McKinley. Can’t miss it. But no one mentions it.

  • hiviper

    huh…I’ll have to watch HEAT for the 547’th time to catch that

  • Chase Kahn

    Welles was definitely obese during this time, but yeah, it always seemed a bit hard to believe that he wasn’t using some kind of fat-suit to get that big.

    I know some people criticize Welles for his acting at times (specifically Steven Soderbergh) for being too hammy, but I’ve always enjoyed his performances, with his turns in “The Third Man” and “Touch of Evil” topping the list for me.

  • Jason Geyer

    Look at him in Compulsion the next year. Fat, sure, but not grotesque. (and once again with the fake nose)

    http://parttimeinfidel.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/annex-welles-orson-compulsion_01.jpg

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    Welles always wore a fake nose to have something more substantial than his little Irish button nose. Olivier did the same.

    As far as fat goes, yes, it’s exaggerated in Touch of Evil, but it’s also true that he went fast– Mr. Arkadin is just a couple of years earlier and he’s not nearly so round yet, and indeed is sort of made up to look bigger than he is there.

  • Glenn Kenny

    I don’t understand the point here. Welles WAS getting heavier when he directed “Evil,” he did employ makeup and padding to contribute to the grotesquerie of his appearance. You think it’s over the top, that’s your privilege. There IS something outsize in the grotesquerie of Quinlan’s appearance; it’s noir crossed with guignol, even. It’s of course entirely deliberate. Welles knew what he was doing. If you don’t like it, fine. But don’t think you’re blowing the lid off any kind of “Orson Welles is fat” scandal. He WAS fat. Part glandular condition, but overeating on top of that didn’t help. What’s it to you, Jeff? The guy’s dead, it’s not as if you’re ever going to be on a plane with him.

  • JR

    Anyone else find it hypocritical that Jeff keeps up his anti-fatty campaign? Jeff, dude…give it a rest.

  • TimDG

    I never noticed Kilmer’s elbow lump either. Viggo Mortensen’s vestigial tail however…

  • Floyd Thursby

    To see who should play OW, Google leonardo dicaprio beard. Though maybe he should lay off biopics after J. Edgar.

  • reverent and free

    Agree with Glenn, what exactly is the point? We know that Welles was getting fat, and I don’t think goodvibe and lazarus or I were saying it was all makeup and padding. Merely that Touch of Evil is a funny example to choose since that was a role for which he was clearly supposed to look like a monster.

  • japhy

    Thanks for mentioning that Kilmer elbow lump The Pope, I’ve always pointed it out when watching ‘Heat”and assumed it was a subtle injury Kilmer’s character incurred during the opening sequence armored car explosion.

  • goodvibe61

    I’m not saying he wasn’t heavy. He was. But it’s a costume for crying out loud! And he ALWAYS wore prosthetics on his face.

    The character is so much richer with the costume. All the garbage flying around him, eating the candy bars, all of it adds up to a fabulous creation. Nobody could convince me that every single solitary moment was nothing less than intricately thought out in this protrayal. Everything.

    Just like the ending of the scene from the first screen grab above. The scene that culminates in Welles saying,

    “I don’t know about you; but when a murderer is loose I’m supposed to catch him”.

    The last moments of that scene, when Welles turns and says

    “C’mon Pete. Let’s get back to civilization”.

    When he turns to go he rubs up against Sgt. Menzies with an ominous lumber that feels threatening. So well done. Even a throw away line like that has a wealth of characterization behind it. Nothing is wasted here, and EVERYTHING counts.

    Etcetera.

  • CitizenKaned4Life

    I have to admit “Kilmer’s elbow” was a new one for me, as well.

    Anybody want to blow the lid of the story of Harrison Ford being as high as a kite while filming Jedi next?

  • Bob Hightower

    Does anyone care that Hitchcock was fat? Does anyone care that Jean Renoir was fat? So why does Welles inspire this kind of comment. Watch this space for an explanation, if it is allowed.

  • Bob Hightower

    Why do people harp on Welles being fat? Welles was an artist who challenged the Hollywood system. Jonathan Rosenbaum writes that “artist” in America equals self-indulgent, uncommercial, etc. And Rosenbaum adds that the ultimate sin in Hollywood is putting your own money into your films. Welles’s weight serves as shorthand for attacking artists who dare to work in the Hollywood industry (as he did for part of his career, when he was essentially an independent trying to work within the system, before he went totally independent). No one cares that Hitchcock was fat, because he was commercial. No one cares that Renoir was fat, because he was French. But Welles had the temerity to try to turn a B movie into art for Universal International, which responded by taking it away from him. And, for the record, if you look at production stills for TOUCH OF EVIL, he was nowhere as fat as Hank Quinlan. He was playing a role, as others have noted here.

  • ErrantElan

    Welles being fat is more notable than Hitch or Renoir not only because he was on-screen a lot (I know both of them did their on-screen thing, but neither were out-and-out actors as Welles was), but that he went from being very athletic and handsome to…not being so…in such a publicly visible fashion.

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