By: Oberst Von Berauscht (A Toast) –
Mexican Drug policeman Ramon Miguel Vargas (Charlton Heston), and his American wife Susan (Janet Leigh) witness a car bombing just as they’re crossing the border into the U.S. Ramon works with American investigator Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles), a seasoned and celebrated detective in the area, in order to find the attacker. Along the way, Mrs. Vargas find herself deeply unsettled, as a local crime boss briefly detains Mrs. Vargas and gives her a message to deliver to her husband. When Mr. Vargas witnesses Quinlan and his men plant evidence, he begins to suspect a criminal conspiracy.
After Citizen Kane’s financial failure, Orson Welles was kept under the thumb of studio executives, rarely being given the ability to fully pursue his vision. In Touch of Evil, Welles was determined to make an impression, and that he does. Welles took a fairly straightforward crime story, and injects his own brand of style. The film begins with an extended tracking shot following a bomb as it is planted in a car, following the car as it passes the film’s protagonists while winding through the streets of a busy Mexican border town, and finally crossing the border into the U.S. This complex unbroken shot brilliantly sets up the story, while feeling effortless. This is just a single example of the camera wizardry on display.
For their part, the cast delivers in droves. Janet Leigh is solid as the put-upon wife whose husband is perhaps more concerned with the job than her safety. Orson Welles’ turn as Quinlan is a sad look at a man whose mental and physical faculties are in full decline, perhaps from a few too many drinks, or a guilty conscience.
Charlton Heston is an amicable leading man, though about as believable a Mexican as you can expect from 1950s American cinema (which is to say not at all). The only weak-link is Dennis Weaver, who normally is dependable, but as the Night Manager of the hotel, seems wasted in a too-easy comic relief role.
A gorgeously directed crime-drama with much to appreciate for movie fanatics.
Take a Drink: when Charlton Heston speaks Spanish (Double it if he convinces you that he’s Mexican)
Take a Drink: for over-the-top strangeness of the Night Manager, and an early example of why Janet Leigh should not stay in rural hotels managed by the crazies.
Drink a Shot: when Orson Welles takes a drink