Screw Citizen Kane. In this film critic’s opinion Orson Welles’ true masterpiece is the 1958 film noir classic TOUCH OF EVIL.
Directed by Orson Welles
Starring Charlton Hest0n, Janet Leigh and Orson Wells
Released By Universal Pictures
112 min (Director’s cut) (1958)
As soon as you watch the famous 3 minute and thirty second long take that opens this film you know that TOUCH OF EVIL is going to be something special. With intricate camera work and a complex script, the great Orson Welles takes charge from the get-go both behind and in front of the camera. This film is without a doubt my favorite in the sinister genre of film noir.
Touch of Evil is by no means a perfect film. The most obvious fault is the casting of American Charlton Heston with his perfect, almost British sounding English accent as the Mexican vice detective Miguel Vargas. Once you get past his painted face and the fact that this “Mexican” in fact doesn’t speak very good Spanish, Heston does as best he can with the role and does it well. Vargas works on the Mexican side of a US/Mexico border town and has just gotten married to American Susie (Janet Leigh). Two years before her iconic role in Psycho Leigh does as much as she can with the role of Susie but unfortunately for her this film is all about the men, so her character really doesn’t do much except be the pretty wife. Mike and Susie’s bliss in being newlywed is quickly overshadowed by witnessing a car bombing that kills a local businessman and his ditzy stripper girlfriend.
This death begins a co-investigation between Mexican and American authorities.
Showing up at the crime scene for the American side is veteran detective Hank Quinland (Orson Welles). Quinland is a rough man with both literal and emotional crutches; besides needing a crutch to walk around he’s traded booze for candy bars to deal with the pain of losing his murdered wife. While it’s sad to see Welles in this physical state remembering how dashing he was in Citizen Kane less than twenty years before it definitely adds that necessary cringe-factor to the character of Quinland.
Once Quinland and Vargas meet the case they’re working on really doesn’t become important anymore. Instead it becomes more of a match of wits and deception as Vargas goes on a mission to prove that the great Hank Quinland is nothing more then a dirty cop. On his quest Vargas encounters all the necessary elements that make up a film noir; harsh side lighting, canted framing and of course most importantly shady, seedy characters. The way the film sensationalizes the characters that do drugs like marijuana is laughable at times but the script is so dense that like the other faults in the film you quickly let it pass because there’s so much other information you have to take in.
Because how complicated the plot is Touch of Evil is the kind of film that you have to devote some time to really sit down and appreciate but I absolutely promise you its worth it. If you’ve never seen an Orson Welles film make sure this one is the first on your list.