Touch of Evil (1958) – reviewed by George

More than a touch, this is a whole lot of evil. The story is basically about police corruption, and one particular corrupt cop, who clings to the “justification” that the people he framed (and the people he is currently framing) were guilty. The problem being that they all weren’t. But if Captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) thought you were guilty, that’s all he needed and railroading was his specialty. And of course some frames were placed as smokescreens to hide his own criminality.
The film begins with a famous tracking shot with the camera on a crane, swooping and diving and going around corners and down streets as it traces the routes of various characters in a Mexican border town. First we see a young man with a home-made bomb as he sets the timer and plants it in the trunk of a convertible. He narrowly avoids being seen by a couple, young woman, older man, who get in the car, top down, and drive away. The man is Rudy Linnekar, who as prosecutor, just put away one of the big dudes in the Grandi crime family. Linnekar and his girlfriend keep crossing paths with a couple of young pedestrians, Mike and Susie Vargas (Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh), who are newly married, as they all approach the border crossing. In fact, they reach it at about the same time and talk before the car drives on and the couple continues walking. And then the car explodes off-camera, which is the end of this approximately 7 minute single shot. The Director of Photography was Russell Metty.
Hank is the Chief of Police in the town on the American side of the border, Las Robles, and Mike is a policeman out of Mexico City on his honeymoon, and the movie will develop into a contest for justice between these two men. And that justice will be complicated by the Mexican crime family, the Grandis. Uncle Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff) is the head of the family locally. In the course of the film Hank will frame a young Mexican man for the double murder in the car by “proving” that he stole the dynamite from a construction company where he works, even though the dynamite was stolen on the American side. And he will frame Susie Vargas for murder.
The acting and the direction by Welles are top notch, and the score by Henry Mancini is perfect. Other major roles are played by Joseph Calleia as Hank’s right hand man Sgt. Pete Menzies, totally believing in Hank’s honesty; Marlene Dietrich as Tana, Hank’s girlfriend; and Dennis Weaver, in a stunning appearance as the Night Manager of the Mirador Motel. And Hank gives a face to the ugliest aspects of racism. His comments and sneers, his jokes and innuendoes, are as much a part of this evil man, as his cunning and duplicity.
The Screenplay is by Welles, based on the Novel “Badge of Evil” by Whit Masterson.

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One Response to Touch of Evil (1958) – reviewed by George

  1. nita166 says:

    George this film is what got me into film. It was that 7 minute shot of the car blowing up in one take. WOW! I like the film. Is it my favorite? No. However it is an excellent study in what goes into making a film and a shot work. In my opinion today’s movie makers could not do what they did. No way no how. This film is film makers talent.

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