Thursday 21 May 2009

Touch of Evil [1958]

Often considered the last great film noir (going by the classical definition of the genre), Touch of Evil is a nightmarish ride through the dark realms of society as well as the human mind. The movie opens with its legendary opening sequence – and source of endless ‘inspirations’ – a long take tracking a car fitted with a timed bomb, from its planting to its explosion. The iconic first three minutes was enough to make this Orson Welles classic a breathtaking and a disturbing movie. What follows, both literally and figuratively, is a game unto death between an honest Mexican cop (Charlton Heston in a largely forgettable role) and the local American police chief (Orson Welles). Janet Leigh, as Heston’s gorgeous wife, in a role that preceded her iconic turn as the infamous “shower scene” lady in Psycho, was at her seductive best. The movie, however, fairly and squarely belonged to Welles. Not only did he present a glimpse into what hell might look like – augmented by the incredibly dark atmosphere, serpentine narrative and oblique camera angles that seemed to penetrate right into the psyche of the characters, but also, as the sleazy, grotesque, corrupt and scheming Captain Hank Quinlan – a screen villain like few others – he gave a performance even more sinister and magnetic than his memorable turn in The Third Man. Though it was callously edited, and massacred in the process, by the studio, fortunately for us cinephiles the noir masterpiece has been restored to the version that Welles perhaps had envisioned while making it.

Director: Orson Welles
Genre: Film Noir/Crime Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Mystery
Language: English
Country: US


Ed Howard said...

I love this movie. Its atmosphere is oppressive and utterly unlike anything else. Everyone seems to be sweating at all times. And Welles' visual inventiveness is unmatched.

Dave said...

Thanks to links through blogs like Ed's I've found my way over here recently and am glad to see a review here of a movie I absolutely love. This is without question my favorite Welles film. The only misstep for me (and for a lot of people it seems) is the incomprehensible choice to cast Charlton Heston as a Mexican cop. I've had friends who couldn't get past it, and as a result somehow couldn't see the greatness of the rest of the film. That's a shame, because it really is a great ride the whole way through.

Anonymous said...

@ Dave: I double that. It;s indeed a farce to cast Heston as a Mexican, but that was inconsequential for me, for the movie just swept me off...

Shubhajit said...

@Ed: Yeah, Welles nearly sucked me into a kind of vortex, and didn't let me relax until the final credits rolled. I agree, the brilliant camera work made the viewing experience all that more distressing (in a positive way).

@Dave: Its difficult to say who was better - Welles the director or Welles the actor - he was that good in each of the two roles of his. You're right, Charlton Heston was completely miscast as a Mexican. His character remains perhaps the only glitch in this otherwise great noir. Do keep visiting.

@Seventh Art: ...and a tad racist too with that incorrigible dark paint on his face.