Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Touch of Evil came out in 1958 and was written and directed by Orson Welles. The film is considered one of the final works of the classic film noir era which started with the Maltese Falcon in 1941.

While Touch of Evil is a dark and serious film, it also has a B-movie quality and is over the top, offbeat, and oddly funny. Welles acts in the film as the corrupt police captain Hank Quinlan. He is huge and bloated and snacks on candy bars. Marlene Dietrich plays an aging cigar smoking Mexican psychic who once had a relationship with Quinlan. When they encounter each other after many years she doesn't recognize him because he has become so fat. "You're a mess, honey." she exclaims with a player piano churning in the background. The film also stars Charlton Heston as a Mexican (Yes, a Mexican!) drug enforcement official, and Janet Leigh plays his energetic, sexy, young wife.

Touch of Evil opens with a continuous tracking shot, considered by critics to be one of the greatest long takes in cinematic history. It lasts for three minutes and twenty seconds and starts at the Mexico/US border and shows a man placing a bomb in a car and then following the car as it passes into the United States where it explodes. At this point we first see newlyweds Miguel Vargas (Heston) and Susie Vargas (Leigh) kissing. 

Working in drug enforcement for the Mexican government, Vargas realizes the implications of a Mexican bomb exploding on American soil and begins to investigate. Quinlan and others are also investigating the crime and zero in on a young Mexican man who is secretly married to the victim's daughter. During the investigation Vargas realizes Quinlan has planted evidence on the suspect.

While Vargas is investigating Quinlan's corrupt tactics, his wife is kidnapped and drugged by a gang in a motel and is framed for murder in a crazy convoluted attempt by Quinlan to ruin Vargas.

Vargas uncovers that there have been many other cases where Quinlan has created false evidence against suspects who were later found guilty and moves to expose the corrupt cop.

Orson Welles made many other great films including his first masterpiece Citizen Kane in 1941. Citizen Kane is considered one of the greatest films of all time because of its innovative cinematography and narrative structure which makes extensive use of flashbacks. Another excellent film by Welles is Lady From Shanghai (1947) which stars Rita Hayworth and includes an amazing scene at the end of the film in a hall of mirrors. Welles also made an interesting adaptation of Kafka's The Trial in 1962 starring Anthony Perkins.

Still, my favorite film of Orson Welles is Touch of Evil. The film is a hard-boiled crime drama, but done with amazing technique in black and white. Welles uses the camera in an innovative and artistic way with wide angles and long fluid takes. The story is full of eccentric moments that make it a unique and unforgettable cinematic experience.

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