Touch of Evil (1958)

Touch of Evil (1958), directed by Orson Welles.


Quinlan: Come on, read my future for me.

Tanya: You haven't got any.

Quinlan: Hmm? What do you mean?

Tanya: Your future's all used up.

Looking like 10 miles of bad road (all makeup and padding), Orson Welles directs and stars in "The Decline and Fall of Captain Quinlin", a great man revered by his associates and feared by the criminal element. He's also been framing suspects for years, planting evidence on those he knows by instinct to be guilty.

The plot emerges only in retrospect. At first we are trying to figure out how a car bombing (which is never explained) and a Mexican drug ring are connected. They aren't, except by Mexican cop Vargas (Charlton Heston, accentless) who is interested in both cases.

He is tough and competent but idealistic and strangely naive about some things. We have the bombing, threats from the drug gang, and an attempt to drench him in acid, but he lets his bride (Janet Leigh) be carried off to a fleabag desert motel where she is out of sight for about a day, and suffers for it.

This is the standard thriller technique of showing the audience things the characters don't see, used most notably here in the very first scene where we see the bomb being placed in the trunk of the car. Then the long, outstanding tracking shot as it winds its way through the streets and crowds to the border checkpoint.

The story begins and ends at night and the harsh foreground lighting gives it a look simultaneously gritty and unreal. Like some other Welles projects, the dialogue recording sometimes sounds extra "studio". They say he was at war with his sound men.

Dennis Weaver gives one of the most eccentrically bizarre performances I can remember.

Janet Leigh had a broken arm. They cut off her cast and taped it back on between scenes. This knowledge makes her assault scene more painful to watch.

The DVD was the 1998 restored version with two commentary tracks: (1) Heston, Leigh, and the restoration producer, and (2) the producer alone, giving details on the effort to restore the film based on Welles's 58-page memo written after seeing the studio cut.

Heston has memories of the production here, much of it repeated on the commentary.

Henry Mancini score.