Touch of Evil (1958) - Rotten Tomatoes

Touch of Evil (1958)

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

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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 past convictions, and he isn't about to let the suspect in the current case be railroaded. Quinlan, whose obsession with his own brand of justice is motivated by the long-ago murder of his wife, is equally determined to get Vargas out of his hair, and he makes a deal with local crime boss Uncle Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff) to frame Susan on a drug rap, leading to one of the movie's many truly harrowing sequences. Touch of Evil dissects the nature of good and evil in a hallucinatory, nightmarish ambience, helped by the shadow-laden cinematography of Russell Metty and by the cast, which, along with Tamiroff and Welles includes Charlton Heston as a Mexican; Marlene Dietrich, in a brunette wig, as a brittle madam who delivers the movie's unforgettable closing words; Mercedes McCambridge as a junkie; and Dennis Weaver as a tremulous motel clerk. Touch of Evil has been released with four different running times -- 95 minutes for the 1958 original, which was taken away from Welles and brutally cut by the studio; 108 minutes and 114 minutes in later versions; and 111 minutes in the 1998 restoration. Based on a 58-page memo written by Welles after he was barred from the editing room during the film's original post-production, this restoration, among numerous other changes, removed the opening titles and Henry Mancini's music from the opening crane shot, which in either version ranks as one of the most remarkably extended long takes in movie history. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Rating:
PG-13 (for some violence and drug content)
Genre:
Classics , Drama , Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
 wide
On DVD:
Runtime:
Studio:
October Films

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Cast

Orson Welles
as Hank Quinlan
Charlton Heston
as Ramon Miguel `Mike' Vargas
Janet Leigh
as Susan Vargas
Joseph Calleia
as Pete Menzies
Akim Tamiroff
as Uncle Joe Grandi
Val DeVargas
as Pancho
Ray Collins
as District Attorney Adair
Dennis Weaver
as Motel Clerk
Joanna Cook Moore
as Marcia Linnekar
Mort Mills
as Schwartz
Victor Millan
as Manolo Sanchez
Lalo Rios
as Risto
Michael Sargent
as Pretty Boy
Mercedes McCambridge
as Gang Leader
Joseph Cotten
as Detective
Zsa Zsa Gabor
as Strip Joint Owner
Phil Harvey
as Blaine
Joi Lansing
as Blonde
Taylor Wayne
as Gang Member
Kenny Miller
as Gang Member
Raymond Rodriguez
as Gang Member
Joe Basulto
as Young Delinquent
Jennie Dias
as Jackie
Ken Miller
as Gang Member
Val de Vargas
as Pancho
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Critic Reviews for Touch of Evil

All Critics (70) | 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

I first saw it when I was 14 and thought it was one of the worst pictures ever -- garish, oppressive, and appallingly overacted. Grown up, I'd go with those same adjectives, except now I think it's one of the best.

April 6, 2007
Slate
Top Critic

A sweaty thriller conundrum on character and corruption, justice and the law, worship and betrayal, it plays havoc with moral ambiguities.

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

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 Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

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.
Spencer S.

Super Reviewer

½

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
Tim Salmons

Super Reviewer

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