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Orson Welles's TOUCH OF EVIL is nothing short of a masterpiece. Beginning with a three-minute-plus tracking crane shot, the film explodes onto the screen, literally--the marvelously expressive opening shot ends with a car blowing up, and that detonation sets into motion a classic noir tale of betrayal and murder. In a complex exploration of character and morality, Welles plays the racist Captain Hank Quinlan, a grotesque, troubled, and powerful figure who runs his small U.S. border town according to his own version of the law. Quinlan's brutishness and vulgarity contrast starkly with the idealism and playboy good looks of Charlton Heston as Mike Vargas, a Mexican detective trying to put away the leader of a dangerous family of drug dealers--the Grandis. In the U.S. with his new bride, Susie (Janet Leigh), Vargas becomes consumed with exposing Quinlan and his highly questionable methods--too busy to see that his own beautiful blonde bride is in serious danger from both Quinlan and the Grandis.
In 1998, Welles's film was restored closer to its creator's original vision, and it is a joy to behold. Every shot is impeccably crafted, every word of dialogue concise and pointed. The camerawork (by Russell Metty and John Russell) is stunning, particularly in the opening scene and the long single take in which Vargas believes he has caught Quinlan planting evidence. The supporting cast, led by Marlene Dietrich, Dennis Weaver, Akim Tamiroff, and Joseph Calleia, gives exhilarating performances. TOUCH OF EVIL, Welles's last studio film, is a near-perfect examination of the dark underbelly of society and the tragic downfall of a once proud man.
Alexander Golitzen - Oscar winning production designer, SPARTACUS
Harry Keller - Director/Editor/B. 1913
Henry Mancini - American Songwriter/Composer, THE PINK PANTHER Theme
Janet Leigh - American actress, PSYCHO
Jeanette Helen Morrison - American actress, PSYCHO
Orson Welles - Director/screenwriter/actor, CITIZEN KANE
George Orson Welles - Director/screenwriter/actor, CITIZEN KANE
Joseph Calleia - Supporting Actor/1940s
Akim Tamiroff - Character Actor
Charlton Heston - Oscar-winning American actor, BEN HUR (1959)
Charles Carter - Oscar-winning American actor, BEN HUR (1959)
Charlton Easton - Oscar-winning American actor, BEN HUR (1959)
Virgil W. Vogel - American TV Director/Editor
Virgil Vogel - American TV Director/Editor
Albert Zugsmith - Prod./Director/Screenwriter
Marlene Dietrich - German actress, singer
Maria Magdalena Dietrich - German actress, singer
Ray Collins - American Character Actor
Zsa Zsa Gabor - Supporting Actress
Aaron Stell - Editor
Russell Metty - American Director of Photography
TOUCH OF EVIL is Orson Welles's gripping study of corruption and morality, set in a small town just across the Mexican-American border. A powerful police captain, who has framed a young Mexican for the bombing murder of a prominent American businessman, finds his authority challenged by an upright Mexican narcotics detective. But the detective soon learns that some things are not as obvious as they appear at first viewing. Welles's fabulous melodrama is a film noir treasure.
Theatrical release: February 1958, without being previewed for critics. Filmed in Venice, California, which doubled for Los Robles. Rehearsals began on February 9, 1957; shooting began on February 18 and wrapped on April 2. TOUCH OF EVIL was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1993. TOUCH OF EVIL was reedited in 1998 based on a 58-page memo that Orson Welles had written to studio head Ed Muhl after Welles's initial displeasure with the original release. The new version was put together by producer Rick Schmidlin and editor Walter Murch, based on the memo that was first written about in a Film Quarterly article by Jonathan Rosenbaum. In the memo, Welles wrote, "I am passing on to you a reaction based on my conviction as to what my picture ought to be, but only what here strikes me as significantly mistaken in your picture." The long tracking shot that starts the movie was mimicked in Robert Altman's THE PLAYER. Welles was even prouder of the long take in the scene in Sanchez's apartment--which was completed on the first day of shooting. Orson Welles was not supposed to be the director, but as a result of a misunderstanding on the part of Charlton Heston, the producer put him at the helm--but paid him no more money. Marlene Dietrich gives a terrifically subtle performance as Tanya. Her character was not in the original script, but Welles added her at the last moment, telling her she should look "dark," as she did in GOLDEN EARRINGS. When the studio saw the rushes that included her, they were shocked. Zsa Zsa Gabor also makes a brief cameo as the nightclub owner. She is called a "Special Guest Star" in the credits, along with Dietrich. Regarding his heavy makeup, Welles said, "...padded stomach and back, sixty pounds of it, old-age stuff. When I came into the house, before I had a chance to explain that I had to get upstairs and take my makeup off, all these people came up and said, 'Hi, Orson! Gee, you're looking great!'" Welles, who rewrote the script in just a matter of days, did not read the novel on which it was based until after he had completed the film. A number of Mercury Theatre veterans appear in the film. A virtually unrecognizable Joseph Cotten plays the medical examiner. Gus Schilling, who played Goldie in THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, makes a brief appearance as Eddie Farnum. And Ray Collins, Jim Gettys from CITIZEN KANE, plays District Attorney Adair. Welles wrote the character of Menzies for Lloyd Bridges, but the studio rejected that choice. He was ultimately thrilled with the work of Joseph Calleia, who played Menzies in the film. After Welles believed the film was complete, the studio brought in Harry Keller to shoot some more scenes that the studio felt were necessary. The retakes were shot on November 19. Hearing about the new shoot, Welles wrote two letters to Heston nearly demanding he not participate. In the first letter he wrote, "UNLESS THE STUDIO IS STOPPED THEY ARE GOING TO WRECK OUR PICTURE--AND I MEAN WRECK IT....THE RESULT WILL BE GENUINELY BAD." Heston was in a tough spot because he had invested money in the production. Meanwhile, Welles was not even allowed back on the Universal lot. He said, "I was so sure I was going to go on making a lot of pictures at Universal, when suddenly I was fired from the lot." When TOUCH OF EVIL premiered as the second half of a double bill, the main feature was THE FEMALE ANIMAL, directed by Harry Keller. Regarding the original released version of the film, Welles told Peter Bogdanovich, "[T]hey didn't absolutely murder it. I was very sorry about the things they did, but the story was still roughly intact when they finished. That wasn't true of ARKADIN, which was just made meaningless by the cutting." The film screened at the Brussels World's Fair on June 8, 1958, and won the top prize from a jury that included Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut.
"...[A] splendid, definitive reedit of Orson Welles' noir great....Unspools with all the complex, unnerving menace its writer-director had in mind all along..." -- Rating: A - 10/02/1998 Entertainment Weekly, p.53
"...A masterpiece..." -- 4 out of 4 stars - 10/09/1998 USA Today, p.5E
"...Discover what the hullabaloo was about....Great Welles and a surprisingly good Heston..." -- 5 out of 5 stars - One for the Library - 12/01/2000 Premiere, p.100
"...Classic noir's final shout pits Orson Welles and Charlton Heston as rival investigators..." - 03/01/2001 Total Film, p.100
"[A] masterful wallow in noir....[Welles] inhabits another outsize monster who somehow evokes the viewer's sympathy." - 05/01/2006 Premiere, p.98
"Orson Welles's 1958 TOUCH OF EVIL is a work of slippery precision, a picture whose seductiveness is only enhanced by its refusal to surrender fully to our grasp." - 09/15/2008 New York Times
"Welles shoots and -- to the extent that he controlled post-production -- edits the film in a fragmented manner which suggest that the line between good cop Vargas and bad cop Quinlan is particularly thin..." - 12/01/2011 Sight and Sound