Touch of evil
Release year: 1958
Director: Orson Welles
Screenwriter: Orson Welles, Whit Masterson (based on the novel ‘Badge of Evil’ by)
Starring: Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Janet Leigh, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Joanna Moore, Ray Collins
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #220, week 36 2018
Mexican Narcotics officer Mike Vargas (Heston) must interrupt his honeymoon when an American building contractor is killed on the Mexican-US border. When the American Police Captain Hank Quinlan (Welles) sees a suspect in a Mexican named Manolo (Victor Millan) Vargas suspects he will stop at nothing to get the bad guy appointed by him. Vargas starts investigating the tough and respected Quinlan putting both himself and his new wife (Leigh) in danger.
In true film-noir style, Welles (Citizen Kane, 1941) adds shadows to his signature camera angels and deep focus, creating a baroque atmosphere suitable for the crime story of greed and power. The cynical Shakespearean character of Quinlan and Marlene Dietrich as an alluring femme fatale completes the classic film-noir set-up of a central figure lured into trouble by a shady character. The story moves along in a slow pace, leaving plenty of time for the atmosphere to build and spread its shadows all over the story. This also means that you get to know and feel the characters in a way that emphasize the reaction to their fates. Heston (Ben-Hur, 1959) is brilliant (but oddly cast) as the Mexican officer and Leigh (Psycho, 1960) good as his bride, but the one leaving the longest lasting impression is without any doubt Welles, whose obsessive character is the most complex, interesting and intimidatingly dangerous in the movie. But it is also in the part of director that Welles succeeds in leaving the biggest mark. Because there is no doubt that the use of shadows and camera angles is what makes this movie stand out, especially in the climactic scene where they almost make the scenery surrounding the characters come alive. Touch of Evil may not be the most known of Welles’s movies (it is hard to beat the one he made, which so many considers the greatest movie ever made), but it is one that deserves to be mentioned every time you talk about the late great actor/director and it is a must for any fan of the classic film-noirs.
Oscar winner Mercedes McCambridge only appears in the film because she was having lunch with Orson Welles during filming and Welles convinced her to film a scene. He had her wear a leather jacket, cut her hair himself and had her character say the sinister line, “I wanna watch.”
Orson Welles wanted the credits to appear at the end of the film so as not to distract the audience from the long (and famous) initial tracking shot. He finally got his wish with the 1998 alternate version, dubbed “the directors’s cut”. However, as initially released theatrically in 1958, the credits appeared at the beginning of the film, superimposed over the now famous opening sequence.
The scene with Vargas and Schwartz in the convertible marks the first time that a scene with dialogue was shot for real in a genuine moving car, rather than a stationary one in front of a projection screen.
Picture copyrights: UIP