You’re Orson Welles and it’s 1952. You want to do a film of Shakespeare’s classic play Othello, The Moor of Venice, a play where the title character is black. (That’s what ‘moor’ meant at the time Shakespeare wrote the play. Nobody seems to have ever disputed that.) What do you do?
Do you go down to Central Casting or whatever department existed at the time and find a promising young black actor? Do you look through the rolls of established black actors? No. I’ll tell you what you do, because ‘you’ are Orson Welles and this is history: You grab a tin of shoe polish and play Othello yourself.
At least Shakespeare didn’t have Othello singing to anyone’s mammy. Things could have gotten ugly.
The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice (1952)
Now it’s 1958 and things have gotten extremely ugly, but due more to an affinity for starchy foods than race relations nightmares. You, still Orson Welles, have been hired to act in a film. Due to a mixup, however, the star, Charlton Heston, thinks you are there to direct, and the producer allows you to in order to keep the star happy. You rewrite the film and make numerous changes, among them something that probably doesn’t really matter.
But it does. It really, really does.
You change the race of one character from white to Mexican.
This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t Charlton Heston’s character.
The part wasn’t recast.
We’re gonna need some more shoe polish.
Touch of Evil was so bad as to be unwatchable, despite being critically acclaimed at the time. Aside from the distracting impact of Charlton Heston playing the only Mexican in filmdom with no trace of a Mexican accent, there was a hilariously bizarre motel owner played by Dennis Weaver. That character would inspire Hitchcock to create Norman Bates, something about as bizarre as Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. inspiring Gomer Pyle, Full Metal Jacket.
“I’ll show sarge what my major malfunction is! Goll-ee!”