TOUCH OF EVIL (1958) B/W widescreen 111m dir: Orson Welles
w/Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Joseph Cotten, Dennis Weaver, Val DeVargas, Ray Collins, Joanna Moore, Mort Mills, Mercedes McCambridge, Joi Lansing
From Georges Sadoul's Dictionary of Films: "This 'Goya-like vision of an infected universe' (Peter Bogdanovich) is based on a banal thriller whose plot appealed to Charlton Heston. Despite the producer's interference (67 pages of the script were cut), Welles turned it into his most technically impressive film. The pervasive atmosphere of the Mexican town with its slums and dives and the singularly believable characters (including the cameo roles such as the very brief appearance by Marlene Dietrich) create their own world, while Welles's lens twists visible space into a strange and baroque universe. Welles himself, as the ugly, fleshy, satanic Quinlan, gives one of his most memorable performances.
"Maurice Bessy wrote: 'Welles confirms that what is personal in the film is his hatred for police abuse of their authority. He could not have dealt with this problem if Quinlan had been only an ordinary cop.' Welles affirmed, 'I firmly believe that in the modern world we have to choose between the morality of the law and the morality of basic justice. That is to say, between lynching someone and letting him go free. I prefer to let a murderer go free than to let the police arrest him by mistake.'"
From The Movie Guide: "Wild Welles rides again --- adapting a shelved script written by Paul Manash for Albert Zugsmith, King of the Bs, from Whit Masterson's novel Badge of Evil (which Welles never bothered to read). The result? A film about love of film even more than the stinking, perverse little thriller it presents itself as. Already famous for directing perhaps the greatest film ever made, CITIZEN KANE, Welles opens TOUCH OF EVIL with what may be the greatest single shot ever put on film. It is a spectacular tracking crane shot which crosses the Mexican/US border, thereby visually foreshadowing the thematic elements to come --- the differences that exist between two peoples, the Mexicans and the Americans; the line Charlton Heston's character crosses from being a law-abiding husband to a vengeful madman; and the line Orson Welles's character crosses from good cop to evil cop. When a car explodes after crossing the border, both US cop Hank Quinlan (Welles) and Mexican narcotics agent Mike Vargas (Heston) begin their investigations. Almost immediately Quinlan has a suspect, Sanchez (Victor Millan), a young Mexican who is involved with the dead man's daughter Marcia (Moore). In order to secure a conviction, Quinlan plants some dynamite in Sanchez's flat, but Vargas is wise to Quinlan's game. With help from Pete Menzies (Calleia), a long-time friend of Quinlan's, Vargas investigates Quinlan's past, all the while trying to solve the murder and protect his wife (Leigh) from a number of dangerous locals. Directing his first film in America since 1948's MACBETH, Welles was originally just supposed to act in TOUCH OF EVIL. The misunderstanding that led to this bizarre and twisted masterpiece began when Heston read a script based on the novel Badge of Evil. Hearing that Welles was involved, and assuming that his involvement meant as actor and director, Heston told producer Zugsmith that he would love to do the project. Rather than lose Heston, Zugsmith managed to get Universal to agree to let Welles direct, on the condition that he could also rewrite. Although much of the mystery element is revealed to the audience, it is Vargas who cannot unravel all the threads and make his clues add up to anything.
"This nightmarish descent into dark entertainment has so much weirdness going on it's amazing. Marlene Dietrich, reprising her GOLDEN EARRINGS drag, smoking cigars and scraping pots, almost steals it. Complete with German accent and huge, light eyes at half mast, she's the most surreal excuse for a Mexican gypsy you've ever seen. When she sees Welles, big as a house with a false nose, it's the film's best line and a prophesy of Wellsian doom: 'You're a mess, honey. You've been eating too much candy.' Like Dietrich, Heston skips the Mexican accent as well. He looks like a muscular, surly version of El Greco. Janet Leigh is at her most perversely innocent, and besides lots of grisly scenes (a murder by Welles the worst), there are a slew of outrageous cameos by Welles crony Joseph Cotten, Zsa Zsa Gabor (totally unaware of what kind of film she's making), Dennis Weaver (unbelievably loopy), Ray Collins and the wildest, Mercedes McCambridge as a butch bitch biker. The blonde in the exploding car is Joi Lansing, the poor man's Mamie Van Doren. EVIL was filmed at Universal, with some locations at Venice Beach. It's greatly enhanced by [Henry] Mancini's dangerous, Latin Rock score. ... Baroque, maddening, and totally inspired."
TOUCH OF EVIL has been released on DVD with restored footage (with a running time of 111m) by Universal Studios. The DVD also includes Welles' memo, specifying specific points where he was at odds with the form the film took when it was finally released to theaters. It's well worth checking out.