Classic Movie Review: Touch of Evil (1958)


Title: Touch of Evil
Release Date: February 1958
Director: Orson Welles
Production Company: Universal-International
Summary/Review:

Touch of Evil takes place on the border of Mexico and the United States, beginning with someone placing a time bomb in a car in the sleazy Mexican border town that doesn’t explode until the driver crosses the border.  Witnesses to the explosion include Mexican special prosecutor Ramon Miguel Vargas (Charlton Heston) and his newlywed wife Susan (Janet Leigh).  Vargas takes an interest in the case and unravels the corrupt career of a racist American police captain, Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles). Meanwhile, Susan stays at an isolated motel not realising that it is owned by the sinister Grandi gang.  Bad things always happen when Janet Leigh stays at a motel.

This is not a movie that you watch for the plot as it doesn’t make much sense if you think much of it and every scene exists simply to set up the next twist.  Instead this is a movie you watch for the technical brilliance of its filming, particularly the camera work that is exemplified in the brilliant opening scene where we follow the car with the ticking time bomb and are simultaneously introduced to Vargas and Susan walking down the street. Heston may be the least Mexican person ever (he either has a deep tan or is wearing brownface) but he acquits himself well as the noble prosecutor.  Welles for his part is suitably slimy as the cop who plants evidence on his suspects.  Other notable performances include Dennis Weaver as the twitchy night manager of the motel (another precursor to Psycho) and Marlene Dietrich as the brothel owner and Quinlans ex-lover.  This is the movie I’d like to see again on the big screen if I have the opportunity.

Note: I watched the 1998 version of the movie that was edited to Welles’ specifications.

Rating: ***1/2

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