Touch of Evil (1958)



Critic Consensus: Artistically innovative and emotionally gripping, Orson Welles' classic noir is a visual treat, as well as a dark, sinister thriller.

Movie Info

This baroque nightmare of a south-of-the-border mystery is considered to be one of the great movies of Orson Welles, who both directed and starred in it. On honeymoon with his new bride, Susan (Janet Leigh), Mexican-born policeman Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston) agrees to investigate a bomb explosion. In so doing, he incurs the wrath of local police chief Hank Quinlan (Welles), a corrupt, bullying behemoth with a perfect arrest record. Vargas suspects that Quinlan has planted evidence to win his … More

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and drug content)
Genre: Drama, Mystery & Suspense, Classics
Directed By:
Written By: Whit Masterson, Orson Welles, Franklin Coen, Paul Monash
In Theaters:
On DVD: Oct 31, 2000
October Films


as Ramon Miguel `Mike' ...

as Susan Vargas

as Hank Quinlan

as Uncle Joe Grandi

as Pete Menzies

as District Attorney Ad...

as Motel Clerk

as Marcia Linnekar

as Schwartz

as Manolo Sanchez

as Risto

as Pretty Boy

as Gang Leader

as Detective

as Strip Joint Owner

as Blonde

as Gang Member

as Gang Member

as Gang Member

as Gang Member

as Young Delinquent
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Touch of Evil

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Critic Reviews for Touch of Evil

All Critics (69) | Top Critics (16)

Expressionistic in the extreme, filled with shadows, angles and cinematic flourishes, the film raises the usual brooding nightmare ambiance of film noir to a level few other pictures have attempted.

Full Review… | March 12, 2013
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

Having the Touch of Evil envisioned by our most creative filmmaker, is a wondrous gift no movie lover should miss.

Full Review… | March 12, 2013
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

[Welles'] scenes with brothel-keeper Marlene Dietrich have nothing to do with the plot and everything to do with the rotting heart of this amazing fable: the apotheosis of pulp.

Full Review… | March 12, 2013
New Yorker
Top Critic

Indeed, just to see and hear the extraordinary 3 minute and 20 second opening sequence -- a fluid tour de force tracking shot -- without impediment of opening credits and street-sound-masking movie score is accomplishment enough.

Full Review… | September 7, 2011
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic

It is typical of Orson Welles that he takes a B-movie thriller set on the Mexican border and gives it a Shakespearian grandeur.

Full Review… | July 16, 2015

Like the bomb that's lobbed in the boot of the soft-top car in its opening scene, Touch Of Evil is a film where we can hear the faint sound of ticking in our heads, but don't realise what the problem is before it's far too late.

Full Review… | July 10, 2015
Little White Lies

Audience Reviews for Touch of Evil

It is great to be able to see this film now as Welles first intended it to be, a very complex character study (and also visually dazzling, opening with a gorgeous long tracking shot) about a corrupted man strongly convinced that any means are justifiable to achieve his idea of justice.

Carlos Magalh„es

Super Reviewer

An iconic, misanthropic, film noir, "Touch of Evil" is one of Orson Welles' last Hollywood ventures and one of his best and critically received films of all time. Welles has his memorable directing style, choice of mis-en-scene, and elaborate choices in acting covering this film from top to bottom. From the bleak atmosphere, to the dark and seedy undercurrent of violence in the police department, to the cultural differences between Mexico and America on a border town, every choice in this film is magnificent. Welles also made the interesting choice to make all the music used within the film diegetic, so it plays from radios and passing cars, and not from a score. Even the plot of the film seems strangely unordinary, as it starts as an explosive (literally) investigation into a car bombing. It quickly becomes clear that the rather robust Hank Quinlan (Welles) is a culprit in the framing of a Mexican youth, and Mexican narcotics' agent Vargas (Heston) has to play a decadent game of cat and mouse in order to save his new wife Susan (Leigh) and entrap Quinlan. Every role in this film feels like a piece of a puzzle that fits together with glue like accuracy. Welles wore padding and prosthetics to play the bull-figure that he would ultimately become, and the transformation makes his gluttonous behavior seem less than coincidental with his end game. Heston, though out of his depth as a Mexican and miscast by a mile, does a convincing job of being the hero without reigning down moralistic virtues as he does in former films. Leigh is a little too agog at the world of crime for her performance to be anything but bothersome, yet she does stand up for her husband at every turn. There are many side performances that would make anyone squeal with glee, including Dennis Weaver ("Gunsmoke") as a hotel manager, Zsa Zsa Gabor as a strip club owner, and Marlene Dietrich as a gypsy madame who falls into sympathy for Quinlan, though strangely she isn't the only one who does so. Welles, as a visionary director, does some interesting things with a pulpy noir that make it resemble an art house thriller more than anything, and does so with little background noise to complicate things, something very few directors have been able to replicate.

Spencer S.

Super Reviewer


Now I wouldn't say that Touch of Evil is the best noir film ever made, but it certainly ranks up there. Having never seen the original theatrical version before, I watched the restored version and I quite admire it (like I do all of Orson Welles' work). As per usual, everyone gives wonderful performances and the film pushes the limits and the hot buttons of riske material for the timeframe it was made and released in. Both Welles and Charlton Heston are magnificent in the film, as is the luminous Janet Leigh. There's a bit part for Marlene Dietrich in there, as well. Perhaps sometime I'll watch the released version and compare, but for now, I have to say this one of Orson Welles' finest pieces of work, acting, directing or otherwise.

Tim Salmons

Super Reviewer

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