Touch of Evil

Touch of Evil

4.8 13

Cast: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Joseph Calleia

     
 

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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… See more details below

Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Amy Robinson
Although Touch of Evil was conceived by Universal Studios as a fairly standard bit of border-town exploitation, in the hands of director Orson Welles it ended up a breathtakingly brilliant noir tragedy. Today regarded as one of the filmmaker's masterpieces, Touch of Evil should have marked the first step of Welles's triumphant return to Hollywood, but the unrelenting darkness of the film's themes and its shadowy, baroque style confounded its producers and ultimately did nothing to end Welles's painful exile. The story concerns honeymooning Mexican detective Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston) who abandons his American wife (Janet Leigh) to pursue the investigation of a car bomb -- eventually putting him on the trail of corrupt police captain Hank Quinlan (Welles). Both Quinlan and, to a lesser extent, Vargas emerge as well-intentioned but flawed heroes who let their single-minded determination to their own notions of justice blind them to anything else. Universal's home video releases showcase a new edit of the film -- reconstructed from a 58-page memo of editing notes written by Welles himself 40 years ago after viewing the studio's original version. The VHS format includes a making-of documentary while the DVD is presented in a wide screen transfer and includes the text of Welles's fascinating memo -- which can be scrolled through screen by screen. Nightmarish imagery, intricate plotting, brilliant performances and impeccable direction make Touch of Evil an absolutely unforgettable experience.
Barnes & Noble - Dave Roth
There's no disputing that Orson Welles was a larger-than-life talent whose films Citizen Kane and The Magnificant Ambersons rank first and second, respectively, on many critics' lists. But in Touch of Evil, his masterful 1959 film noir, Welles also employs his larger-than-life physical dimensions in the service of a cinematic cause: making his immoral detective, Hank Quinlan, a truly repulsive screen presence. This labyrinthine plot begins with a legendary tracking shot that visually suggests an interweaving of the action that is to follow, as Charlton Heston -- portraying an earnest, decorated Mexican policeman on his honeymoon -- mounts his own investigation of a car-bombing, in opposition to Quinlan's seedy, evidence-planting methods. The handsome restored version of the film showcases Welles's unexpected triumph, particularly the sinuous photography of Russell Metty. There are numerous good performances here, especially from Akim Tamiroff and Joseph Calleia, but this film orbits around Welles-as-Quinlan and, in its subtext, around Welles's idea of himself as a spurned genius. Kane was a beautiful suicide, an auspicious beginning that was simultaneously career poison. With Touch of Evil, Welles was writing his artistic epitaph.
All Movie Guide - Mark Deming
After the commercial disappointment and political controversy of Citizen Kane, Orson Welles was never given another opportunity to make a film with an entirely free hand in the United States. Touch of Evil was as close as he came (producer Albert Zugsmith has said he gave Welles no interference, but that the upper management at Universal insisted on re-editing the film against his wishes), but while Welles was often regarded as a director too much in love with "art" to make a strictly commercial film, Touch of Evil proved he could have it both ways -- it's a strikingly constructed, visually audacious film that's also a great piece of popcorn entertainment. The justifiably famous opening shot -- a long tracking sequence that opens with a man planting a bomb in a car and ends with a newlywed Mexican DEA agent (Charlton Heston) and his bride (Janet Leigh) crossing the border -- is only the most spectacular bit of visual stunt work in this film; Welles seems to have having a grand time with his camera, and in its way this picture is just as visually exciting and inventive as Citizen Kane. If the story is only one or two steps up from a standard detective potboiler, it's told with enough enthusiasm and tongue-in-cheek wit that one can read it as a parody or a straight neo-noir drama, and it works either way. Also, Welles always had a gift with actors, which certainly didn't fail him here. If Charlton Heston never seems convincing as a Mexican, his straight-arrow strength and thirst for justice certainly suit the role, while Janet Leigh is a virtuously sexy new bride, and Welles himself is superb as the bloated Hank Quinlan, who seems to be collapsing under the weight of his own corruption. (Welles also brought in a distinguished supporting cast, and Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, and Mercedes McCambridge all deliver performances as memorable as the leads.) If Touch of Evil doesn't have the same ambitious sweep of Citizen Kane or The Magnificent Ambersons, that's probably because it was never meant to have it; this film is the work of a great artist having a lot of fun telling a good yarn, and it's wildly entertaining while still delivering the kind of excitement that only a real artist can deliver.

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Product Details

Release Date:
03/01/1992
UPC:
0096895507830
Original Release:
1958
Rating:
NR
Source:
Universal Studios

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
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
Mort Mills Schwartz
Victor Millan Manolo Sanchez
Lalo Rios Risto
Phil Harvey Blaine
Joi Lansing Blonde
Harry Shannon Gould
Rusty Wescoatt Casey
Wayne Taylor Gang Member
Kenny Miller Gang Member
Raymond Rodriguez Gang Member
Arlene McQuade Ginnie
Keenan Wynn Man
Joseph Cotten Detective
Mercedes McCambridge Hoodlum
Marlene Dietrich Tanya
Zsa Zsa Gabor Owner of Nightclub

Technical Credits
Orson Welles Director,Screenwriter
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
Russell Metty Cinematographer
Aaron Stell Editor
Bill Thomas Costumes/Costume Designer
Virgil Vogel Editor
Bud Westmore Makeup
Frank H. Wilkinson Sound/Sound Designer
Albert Zugsmith Producer

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