August 4, 2016


Classics REVIEW: Touch of Evil

“Touch of Evil” is worth the viewing if for no other reason than the opening sequence. It begins with a long one-shot scene that serves to fill the audience with dramatic tension as the camera travels along a street.

Orson Welles shows why he is known as one of the greatest directors to ever film. His varying of camera angles and use of bizarre close-ups help to create mood and dread. Though as with the sign of those times, some of the moments can be a little hokey or overacted with exaggerated expressions. But that’s to be expected.

The story is set on the Mexican-American border where a murder forces both sides to work together. It plays as more than a murder mystery with the issue of morality injected into the story where corruptness comes at the main character from different places.

Charlton Heston stars as Mike Vargas, a Mexican lawman. I admit, it’s a bit odd seeing him play a Mexican and I’m not a fan of whitewashing, but I can give this 1958 movie a pass. Though I had to keep reminding myself who he was playing, particularly during the scenes where he interacted with Mexicans. He’s a newly married man, who is asked to solve this crime. Though he’d rather spend time with his wife.

Orson Wells plays the American Police Captain, Hank Quinlan—a hardened man who may have been idealistic at one time; but there is no sign of that man in this film. However, there is a slight crack that shows he may have cared for someone once. He’s a recovering alcoholic who believes in doing whatever is necessary to get his man. And as the choices he has to make get difficult, he finds himself one step closer to the bottle.

The plot of “Touch of Evil” weaves in various characters and their motivations that, on the onset, don’t seem to connect until midway through the movie when both Quinlan and Vargas question a suspect.

There are seedy elements that come into play that try to influence the outcome of the investigation.

This Film Noir carries the mystery till the end, folding in some twists that alter the path of where you think the story is going to go. There are some very tense moments throughout, especially with Janet Leigh’s character, who plays Susan Vargas—the wife of Charlton Heston’s character.

Criminals use Susan as a tool to get to Mike Vargas. And this is where I think some elements veered off into…

The land of implausibility…

These moments are brief. But what makes them stand out is that they are essential to the plot or at least how Mike Vargas is affected.

Susan Vargas’ character is sort of stalked or harassed by a subplot. And there are moments that make me shake my head and ask:
  • Why would she go off with them all alone?
  • Why would her husband leave her in some isolated place?
  • Why is this place kept by someone who doesn’t seem to know what the heck is going on?
  • Also, when Mike Vargas goes to the hotel, he seems more upset about a missing gun than a missing… well… 

All in all, if you’re looking for a Film Noir, “Touch of Evil” offers both the tension and multi-layered story that has you wondering what will happen next. It’s unpredictable and very well acted.

Ending Questions

This movie leaves two questions:

1) Did they catch the killer? It would seem the answer is YES. It was mentioned that he confessed. Though I do wonder because Quinlan wanted the suspect to be pressed hard, to be broken because the suspect wouldn’t confess (at first). Just how hard was he pressed?

Considering this is a Film Noir, I think it fits better for the answer to be YES because it makes it all the more tragic at the end. They had the right guy all along, and so all that occurred after the scene with the explosives in the box didn’t need to happen.

That’s how I like my Film Noirs!

2) Was she raped? My guess is NO. But I think she was supposed to be assaulted in the original script. There were supposedly re-shoots. Add that to the fact that one of the characters wanted to “watch”. Surely she wasn’t there to “watch” nothing.

I think the studio changed its mind and so we have the conversation between characters that say she was just drugged to make her believe something bad happened. I think this was added later when the studio had changes made. I also think she was originally going to be drugged with something other than sodium pentothal.

Times were different back then. The fact they they had a lesbian was probably a bit much for them, let alone all the other things.

 Score: 9/10


About Lisa

Passionate about movies and writing. Hopes to someday be a published writer. So when she's not staring at the tube, she's spilling her imagination onto a blank page.

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