Movie Project #20: Touch of Evil [1958]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Touch of Evil [1958]

Touch of Evil [1958]
Director: Orson Welles
Genre: Crime/Film Noir/Thriller
Starring: Charlton Heston, Orson Welles and Janet Leigh
Runtime: 95 minutes

Touch of Evil had me hooked from the opening shot. The three-and-a-half minute tracking shot begins with a man sneakily placing a bomb in the trunk of a car. A couple enters the car and begins driving slowly through town, not knowing that their lives are in danger. They are forced to stop on multiple occasions to let pedestrians cross the road. As they sit waiting, the suspense reaches new heights. When will this bomb go off?

The car continues moving forward. Now we see happy newlyweds walking down the street — later, we learn that this is drug enforcement official Miguel Vargas (Charlton Heston) and his wife Susie (Janet Leigh). As they walk down the street, they continue to cross paths with the slow moving vehicle. We can practically hear the bomb ticking… we know it’s going to go off, but when??

The car reaches the US/Mexico border. After some banter with the border patrol, the riders are sent through to American soil, where the bomb promptly explodes. Talk about a hell of an introduction… welcome to Touch of Evil.

Touch of Evil [1958]

Orson Welles’ gritty Film Noir never lets up after the opening scene. This is a technical masterpiece, with some truly stunning cinematography. It’s easy to just sit back and stare in awe at the visual prowess on screen, but yes, there is a terrific crime story to back it up.

The fact that a Mexican bomb blew up on American soil is very bad news for Vargas’ home country, so he decides to keep tabs on the ongoing investigation. All sorts of police officers arrive on scene, but two of them take charge: Captain Harry Quinlan (Orson Welles) and his faithful partner Pete Menzies (Joseph Calleia). Quinlan, a sweaty, unshaven man of immense girth, immediately butts heads with Vargas, who insists that he will not get in the way. However, when Vargas (rightfully) suspects Quinlan of planting evidence at the crime scene, the testosterone battle reaches new, murky depths.

Touch of Evil has many twists and turns, and it digs heavily into police corruption thanks to Orson Welles’ role as one of the greatest villains in cinematic history. His Quinlan is not a good man, though he may have once been, and he is the type of guy who will do anything to maintain his position as top dog. Welles plays him with a snarl, delivering a dark and unforgettable performance. Charlton Heston is also terrific as the drug enforcement agent Vargas, even though it is laughable that he is supposed to be Mexican. Special mention must be made of Janet Leigh, who is brilliant even as her poor character gets innocently caught up in the middle of this web of crime.

Touch of Evil [1958]

Touch of Evil has been released as three different versions. The original 1958 theatrical cut was a 93 minute hack job that was revised without Welles’ knowledge (or so he claimed). In 1976, a new version was discovered and released, though it still included several re-shot scenes (even moreso than the original cut). Finally, in 1998, the most complete version was released, as most of Welles’ original complaints were addressed, and the film was pieced together per his former requests. This is the version I ended up seeing, and by all accounts, this is the best one.

As much as I love Citizen Kane, a strong case could be made for Touch of Evil being my new favorite Orson Welles film. I fell in love with the film right from the beginning, and its dark subject matter kept me intrigued throughout. As far as Film Noirs go, it doesn’t get much better than this (even with Heston as a Mexican).


Blogathon: Cool Off With The Classics

Another month, another movie blogathon! Marc over at Go, See, Talk came up with another great idea that is sure to start making its rounds in the film blogging community. The idea here is to “Cool Off With The Classics” — that is, to compile a list of black & white classics you would watch to “beat the heat.” Since I have been digging into more classics than usual lately, I thought this would be a fun event to participate in. So here we go… ten of my favorite B&W movies.

12 Angry Men [1957]
1) 12 Angry Men [1957]
Sidney Lumet’s early classic was one of my first experiences with a black & white film. I watched this for the first time in high school and could not believe that an “old movie” set in a courtroom could maintain my interest from beginning to end. An incredible film, and one that I absolutely must see again soon.

The Third Man [1949]
2) The Third Man [1949]
I saw this for the first time earlier this year and fell in love with it. There is so much to like about this movie, and of course it has some of the most memorable moments in cinematic history (such as Orson Welles’ big reveal). The closing shot is one of the best I have ever seen.

Crashout [1955]
3) Crashout [1955]
I caught this earlier this month at the Music Box Theatre’s awesome Noir City Festival. This rarely-seen prison break movie is a lot of fun, and surprisingly brutal for its time period.

Among the Living [1941]
4) Among the Living [1941]
Another rarely-screened movie that I caught at the Noir City Festival. This is a wonderful noir/horror hybrid with great performances from Albert Dekker and Susan Hayward.

Citizen Kane [1941]
5) Citizen Kane [1941]
This is the movie that made me excited to see more classics. We watched the entirety of the film in my university’s Music & Film class, and I was quite frankly amazed. One of the best of all time, obviously, and it felt great to finally understand the lyrics to the Kane-referencing White Stripes song, “The Union Forever“.

City Lights
6) City Lights [1931]
My 50 Movies Project is already reaping dividends, as it provided the means for me to catch this Chaplin silent classic. Words are not needed for Chaplin’s dynamic Tramp character, and his endless pursuit of love is inspiring (with hilarious results).

The Day The Earth Stood Still [1951]
7) The Day The Earth Stood Still [1951]
I am not a big sci-fi fan, so I was a little skeptical about this movie. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed it. Intelligent, entertaining and backed by Bernard Herrmann’s incredible therimin-driven score, this is one of the better sci-fi films I have seen, regardless of age.

The Killing [1956]
8 ) The Killing [1956]
One of Kubrick’s earliest films is one of my favorites from him, and it has been heavily influential over the years (most notably for Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs). An exciting, well-crafted heist noir.

Steamboat Bill, Jr. [1928]
9) Steamboat Bill, Jr. [1928]
I have only seen two, maybe three, Buster Keaton movies, but this is the one I have enjoyed the most. Lots of laughs and some ridiculous physical stunts make this one of the more memorable silent films I have seen.

Seven Samurai [1954]
10) Seven Samurai [1954]
It is a testament to the film’s brilliance that I am able to sit through the full three hours without ever once growing bored or impatient. I saw it for the first time last year and it just blew me away. The quintessential samurai film.

Be sure to check out the rest of the participants in this blogathon, and feel free to join in on the fun as well.