Touch of Evil (1958) – Orson Welles

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The next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book for my screening of Citizen Kane, is this noir film starring Welles, Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh.

This film was stunning for the beautiful camera work alone. Everyone talks about the opening shot, but it’s always amazing to see it. And with that one, stunning opening shot, I knew that I had found my favorite Orson Welles’ film. That shot, not to mention the other beautiful camerawork and framing throughout, coupled with the fact that the film itself is a noir tale, had me from the off.

A brilliant piece.

Set in a border town, a murder, fantastically set-up in that long opening shot, draws in cops from both sides of the border. Representing the Mexican side is Mike Vargas (Heston), who simply wanted a quiet getaway with his new wife, Susan (Leigh). On the side of the U.S. government is Hank Quinlan (Welles), smart, devious, and corrupt. The two butt heads, as Susan is drawn into the darkness that seems to swirl around the two men and their actions, as she is menaced by Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff) and his thugs. It seems they have a plan of vengeance against Vargas, and are going to start exacting it… on his wife first.

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I love how this one is crafted and laid out, the trouble that Susan finds herself in is truly unnerving, and Quinlan`s actions throughout are menacing, and an example of corruption of power, while Heston`s Vargas has a higher moral standard and wants to see that justice is done, and that the correct parties are punished.

The hotel sequences featuring Leigh, are dark, troubling, and crafted so well that they left me on edge throughout. I`ve never been a Heston fan, but I highly enjoyed his turn in this film. There`s something completely at ease about his portrayal, and I completely bought into his characterization immediately, so much so that I actually forgot it was Heston!

Welles, obese and unpleasant throughout this film, seems to be the living personification of a corrupt system. He`s actually distasteful to watch in this film, so foul looking, a burnt out cop, who can be bought and sold, but can still be good at his job.

The climax of the film is a tense affair that sees every party getting what`s coming to them, good or not.

Over the past few screenings I`ve got a strong showing of what Welles was capable of both an actor and a director, and for me, I think this one is going to be the on I point to as my favorite. It had everything I loved, dark characters, fantastic shot composition, cinematography and performances, and all of it is bundled up into a fantastic little noir film.

I just can`t believe it took me this long to see it!

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