Touch of EvilDirector: Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Joseph Calleia
This baroque nightmare of a south-of-the-border mystery is considered to be one of the great movies of Orson Welles, who both directed and starred in it. On honeymoon with his new bride, Susan (Janet Leigh), Mexican-born policeman Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston) agrees to investigate a bomb explosion. In so doing, he incurs the wrath of local police chief Hank Quinlan (Welles), a corrupt, bullying behemoth with a perfect arrest record. Vargas suspects that Quinlan has planted evidence to win his past convictions, and he isn't about to let the suspect in the current case be railroaded. Quinlan, whose obsession with his own brand of justice is motivated by the long-ago murder of his wife, is equally determined to get Vargas out of his hair, and he makes a deal with local crime boss Uncle Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff) to frame Susan on a drug rap, leading to one of the movie's many truly harrowing sequences. Touch of Evil dissects the nature of good and evil in a hallucinatory, nightmarish ambience, helped by the shadow-laden cinematography of Russell Metty and by the cast, which, along with Tamiroff and Welles includes Charlton Heston as a Mexican; Marlene Dietrich, in a brunette wig, as a brittle madam who delivers the movie's unforgettable closing words; Mercedes McCambridge as a junkie; and Dennis Weaver as a tremulous motel clerk. Touch of Evil has been released with four different running times -- 95 minutes for the 1958 original, which was taken away from Welles and brutally cut by the studio; 108 minutes and 114 minutes in later versions; and 111 minutes in the 1998 restoration. Based on a 58-page memo written by Welles after he was barred from the editing room during the film's original post-production, this restoration, among numerous other changes, removed the opening titles and Henry Mancini's music from the opening crane shot, which in either version ranks as one of the most remarkably extended long takes in movie history.
- Release Date:
- Original Release:
- Universal Studios
Cast & Crew
|Charlton Heston||Ramon Miguel Vargas|
|Janet Leigh||Susan Vargas|
|Orson Welles||Hank Quinlan|
|Joseph Calleia||Pete Menzies|
|Akim Tamiroff||Uncle Joe Grandi|
|Joanna Moore||Marcia Linnekar|
|Ray Collins||District Attorney Adair|
|Dennis Weaver||Motel Manager|
|Valentin de Vargas||Pancho|
|Victor Millan||Manolo Sanchez|
|Wayne Taylor||Gang Member|
|Kenny Miller||Gang Member|
|Raymond Rodriguez||Gang Member|
|Zsa Zsa Gabor||Owner of Nightclub|
|Alexander Golitzen||Art Director|
|John P. Austin||Set Decoration/Design|
|Phil Bowles||Asst. Director|
|Leslie I. Carey||Sound/Sound Designer|
|Robert Clatworthy||Art Director|
|Russell A. Gausman||Set Decoration/Design|
|Joseph E. Gershenson||Musical Direction/Supervision|
|Philip H. Lathrop||Camera Operator|
|Henry Mancini||Score Composer|
|Bill Thomas||Costumes/Costume Designer|
|Frank H. Wilkinson||Sound/Sound Designer|
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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No matter what standards you equate to film noir, this is of the highest. Along with The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and Farewell My Lovely you are pulled....no driven to an ending you cannot escape. From it's famous long crane shot to its dark murky watery grave every shot is eerie and threatening. Perhaps the most frightening aspect is it's realistic style. One can't help but feel the dirt, heat and dark, dark danger. All film buffs, not just film noir fans should make this a must to see time and time again. This is the definition of film noir!!
On its face, "Touch of Evil" is a second-rate detective story, with some absurd moments that give it the quality of a horror picture. But beneath the veneer it is a brilliant work of expressionist effects, and containing a tour de force of acting. (What besides tour de force can describe a situation in which the director of a film additionally plays a principal role?) This is film noir at its finest. Stanley Kubrick once said that the first shot of a film should be the most interesting thing the audience sees after entering the theater. Certainly, the astonishing, lengthy one-take opening shot of "Touch of Evil" meets the test. It may be the most dazzling first shot to appear in any film, and Welles complained of having to explain to people how it was done. In addition to its fabulous opening, "Touch of Evil" contains many other brilliant sequences including an extraordinary shot in which the camera dollies back as a group of characters cross a street, tracks them across a hotel lobby, leads them into a cramped elevator, and rides them up five floors until Mexican detective Vargas (Charlton Heston), who has left them in the lobby, reappears at the very moment the elevator door reopens. Welles shoots his story as if it were a nightmare. The isolated-motel sequence prefigures "Psycho": Janet Leigh's sexy Susie Vargas meets a skinny "night man" (Dennis Weaver) who is an infantile sex degenerate. There is also great irony in the fact that the duel between the straight incorruptible Vargas and the tainted, decadent Hank Quinlan (Welles) only ends when Vargas is forced to use Quinlan's dirty tricks to defeat him. Like most of Welles's movies, from "Citizen Kane" to "Chimes at Midnight", "Touch of Evil" deals with loyalty and betrayal between friends. When his idolizing partner Pete Menzies (Joseph Calleia) rejects Quinlan for Vargas, Quinlan correctly feels betrayed by the one man he loves and trusts, and whose adoration he thrives on. One of the best things about "Touch of Evil" is the strange, decaying atmosphere of its night city, a fictional space created by Welles out of bizarre locations in Venice, California. It is a weird world of flashing neon, tawdry hotels and night clubs, crumbling arches, peeling walls, twisting alleys, and everywhere, always, heaps of trash It was essential, therefore, that the accompanying music score by Henry Mancini to the movie not only complimented the action, but actually became part of the film itself. Indeed, Welles and Mancini inserted the music into the plot of the film by having the majority of the score emanate from a screen source, be it a jukebox, a loudspeaker, or a cheap radio. Welles knew the value of music in film, and decided that the music for this film would be different. "What we want is musical color," said Welles, "rather than movement--sustained washes of sound rather than tempestuous, melodramatic, or operatic style of scoring." Mancini delivered and then some. His music is uniformly strong and able to stand on its own merits away from the confines of 24 frames per second--an astounding feat considering the constraints given to Mancini by the director. While "Touch of Evil" may not be as significant as "Citizen Kane", which taught other directors how to tell a story through film, and taught viewers how to watch and listen to a film and get the complete story, but it has imagery that is as startling as anything in "Kane", and identical themes, and is even more entertaining. In fact, it emerges as the most enjoyable of Welles's films. The result? "Touch of Evil" is a masterpiece. [filmfactsman]
Famous for its opening, extended tracking shot in Mexico, and rightly so, "Touch of Evil" is Welles's best film--even better than "Citizen Kane." Not many people will agree with me on that judgment. Though I recognize Welles's virtuoso technical work as director in "Citizen Kane," I find the movie dull and, oddly, lacking in dramatic value. It plays like a carnival sideshow, with Welles the carny huckster presiding over it. I've seen it in its entirety once and have no desire to sit through the whole film again.
"Touch of Evil," on the other hand, I can watch many times over and still find it dramatically entertaining. The edgy, over-the-top performances of the actors, especially Welles and Dennis Weaver, the weird camera angles, the looming shadows, and the jazzy beatnik score all afford the film a surreal film-noir appearance.
Based on a book by crime writer Whit Masterson, "Touch of Evil" unreels like a lurid thriller, dripping with almost-campy menace. Ludicrous himself with his potbelly and bizarrely affected speech pattern, reminiscent of a parody, Welles yet projects an inimical villainy that informs the entire film. For sure, it's no comedy, but it borders on the absurd, making it that much more exciting dramatically and steeped with angst.
--Bryan Cassiday, author of "Fete of Death"