Touch of Venice

Photo Courtesy Eric Berry

Netflix’s Mank, leading this year’s Oscar contenders with 10 nominations, has a Venice connection.

Mank focuses on the true story of Herman J. Mankiewicz, an alcoholic screenwriter enlisted by a young Orson Welles to write the script for his 1941 classic Citizen Kane. Based on the life of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, Citizen Kane launched the 25-year-old Welles into critical and popular stardom. Although he never quite matched the peak of Citizen Kane—considered by many to be the best American film of all time, Welles later came to Venice to shoot another classic, Touch of Evil.

A 1958 film noir, Touch of Evil stars Charlton Heston as a Mexican narcotics officer investigating a car-bombing at the U.S.-Mexico border. According to the biography Citizen Welles, Welles wanted to shoot Touch of Evil in a town that looked “decaying and touched with evil” to match the film’s theme of official corruption. He initially wanted to film in a Mexican border town such as Tijuana or Juarez, but Mexican officials wanted to censor the script and Universal Studio executives didn’t want to spend money on foreign locations.

Brave New World author Aldous Huxley told Welles that Venice “was magnificently decayed and that the town might make a superbly decadent site for his film,” according to Citizen Welles.

Welles toured Venice on foot with his art directors and thought the location was fitting. When he saw a bridge over the canal with oil derricks in the background, he decided to rewrite Touch of Evil’s ending to take place there. Welles, playing corrupt police captain Quinlan, actually fell into the canals at one point, injuring his ankle and requiring a cane (Citizen Cane?) to walk around.

The locations around Venice for Touch of Evil included the first block of Windward Avenue. A mural titled “Touch of Venice” by Jonas Never marks the spot with a large black and white rendering of the film. Touch of Evil is also known for its three-and-a-half minute opening shot there, one of the longest for its time. Other Venice filming locations were along Ocean Front Walk and Speedway from Marine Street to Sunset Avenue.

Born in Kentucky, Doug Rapp now calls 90291 home. Before joining the Venice Current, his writing appeared in outlets throughout the Midwest. He is also a script analyst for writing competitions in L.A. and New York City.