Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Touch of Evil (1958)

Touch of Evil PosterIt's always be considered to be one of (if not the) great film-noirs of all time. Touch of Evil is the second last movie by Orson Welles to be reviewed by me - and it's one of the best. Let's give you some facts about the production. It's not known exactly how Orson Welles ended up directing Touch of Evil, but there are two commonly known stories that give two reasonable explanations. Here is the first:

1. It is said that Universal originally wanted Welles only to star and they definitely wanted Charlton Heston to play the lead. However, Heston would only agree if there was a director involved with a good reputation. When he was told Orson Welles was in the cast he expressed more interest in starring in the film should Orson Welles direct. And so, Orson Welles did direct.

2. Orson Welles was friends with Albert Zugsmith and they were searching for a new screenplay for Welles' next film. Orson Welles (with his renowned ego) stated that he would like to select the worst screenplay they could find in order to prove that he could transform it into a masterwork of cinema. By the end, the worst script they could find was a novel called "Badge of Evil", based off a novel next to nobody read. Orson Welles did a re-write of the script, and then production became underway. 

Both of the possible stories lead to this point, so in dosen't really matter which is correct. A great cast of big stars was chosen for Touch of Evil. Janet Leigh who at that point had yet to work alongside with any great directors was surprised by the manner in which Orson Welles managed his actors. In her more recent days she reminisced about Touch of Evil and said this: 

File:Touch of Evil restored.jpeg
                  "It started with rehearsals. We rehearsed two weeks prior to shooting, which was unusual. We rewrote most of the dialogue, all of us, which was also unusual, and Mr. Welles always wanted our input. It was a collective effort, and there was such a surge of participation, of creativity, of energy. You could feel the pulse growing as we rehearsed. You felt you were inventing something as you went along. Mr. Welles wanted to seize every moment. He didn't want one bland moment. He made you feel you were involved in a wonderful event that was happening before your eyes."

I guess that really shows how unique Orson Welles was as a director. Anyway, after two Shakespear adaptations and Mr. Arkadin (which didn't even come to America until 1962) had left Universal with a sour taste in their mouth. However, after Orson Welles presented the original rough cut of Touch of Evil they decided Orson Welles had finally returned to making great movies. None the less, Universal Studios decided they had to cut it down. This is understandable considering as I watched in approximately a year ago for the first name I was struck by some of the content that would be deemed inappropriate at the time. For example, Touch of Evil contains rape, strip clubs, blood, mild profanity and a murder scene that holds up with the intense shaky camera effects in modern movies - all of which were un-seen in most 1958 movies. 

Surprisingly, Touch of Evil was not a box-office success. However it received quality reviews, even one from Francois Truffaut, a French director who went on to become one of the greatest filmmakers of the century. Even though Touch of Evil was not a major hit in 1958, it's a major hit now as it is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time.


A Mexican police officer named Ramon is forced to put his honeymoon into a sudden stop when a American building contractor is killed, by a bomb under his car. The American is killed on the American side of the boarder, however, it's clear that the bomb was planted when he was still on the Mexican side of the boarder. Captain Quinlan is the police officer in charge of the U.S investigation suspect a Mexican named Sanchez is involved in the bombing. However, Ramon witnesses Quinlan planting evidence in Sanchez's apartment  After hiding his wife in a hotel, Ramon reviews Quinlan's older cases only to discover that he's been a corrupt cop for a long time. That's only the first of his problems. The Grandi family (a notorious crime family) has come seeking revenge on Ramon, and what better place to start than on his wife?

All my life I have wanted to see one thing: Charlton Heston... in a good performance  Finally, I saw it in Touch of Evil. Although he does not give the greatest performance of the film, he gives the greatest performance of his career - even though he was playing a Mexican and he never even attempted to do a Mexican accent. 

It's thought that Orson Welles gained weight for this movie, all though that is incorrect. He gained lots of weight around Mr. Arkadin. None the less, the character of Quinlan was horrifying. He looked like a nightmare and Orson Welles quiet evil eyes made him feel like one. Sadly, I do have a problem with the character. Here is a man, he made it into the police force long ago and slowly made his way up until he reached the position of captain. He planted evidence in practically every case he could not solve... and yet nobody noticed until now? It's hard to expand your disbelief and accept Quinlan as a man who is plain evil. But then again, most film-noirs have a character who is plain evil.

There is a seen where Quinlan sneaks up on a man and strangles him. This scene uses quick cuts, flashing lights and a shaky camera - all of which would become popular 40 years later. Therefor, you can say Orson Welles invented that kind of camera work.

Finally, I would like to say if you watch Touch of Evil prepare to be shocked.

Touch of Evil,
Directed by Orson Welles,
Starring: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Orson Welles
9/10 (A)

1. F for Fake
2. The Magnificent Ambersons
3. Touch of Evil
4. The Lady From Shanghai
5. Citizen Kane
6. Chimes at Midnight
7. The Trial
8. The Stranger
9. Macbeth
10. Othello

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