Touch of Evil

1958

Touch of Evil

Critics Consensus

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

96%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 76

92%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 31,138
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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

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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
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
Joseph Cotten
as Detective
Zsa Zsa Gabor
as Strip Joint Owner
Taylor Wayne
as Gang Member
Kenny Miller
as Gang Member
Raymond Rodriguez
as Gang Member
Joe Basulto
as Young Delinquent
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News & Interviews for Touch of Evil

Critic Reviews for Touch of Evil

All Critics (76) | Top Critics (21)

  • Made in 1958, it was Orson Welles's last Hollywood film, and in it he makes transcendent use of the American technology his genius throve on; never again would his resources be so rich or his imagination so fiendishly baroque.

    Oct 19, 2017 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Jul 10, 2015 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • The bravura of the opening sequence of Orson Welles's last Hollywood picture grabs you by the throat.

    Jul 9, 2015 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

    Wendy Ide

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • Adapted by Welles from Whit Masterson's pulp thriller Badge of Evil, it had streaks of teen degradation and reefer madness, and the most intense interracial relationship since The Searchers.

    Jul 9, 2015 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Mar 12, 2013 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • Having the Touch of Evil envisioned by our most creative filmmaker, is a wondrous gift no movie lover should miss.

    Mar 12, 2013 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Touch of Evil

  • Oct 14, 2018
    I love how weird this movie is. Yes it's suspenseful, yes the direction is superb, but it is the deliberately muddled plot and oddball characters make the proceedings so memorable.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Nov 29, 2016
    This gritty drama from 1958 feels modern in so many respects, starting with its content, which is about police corruption, but also touches on a lot of other adult themes (murder, kidnapping, rape, marijuana, stripping, etc). Among other things, you'll see Jane Leigh terrorized in a small roadside motel where she's the only lodger (a couple of years before she'll run into Norman Bates), this time by Mexican gangsters who've come over the border to harass her (and I wish it stopped at that). Orson Welles is absolutely brilliant as actor and director, and leads a great cast which also includes strong performances from Leigh and Charlton Heston (though I hate the fact that he was cast as a Mexican). There is a nice small part played by Marlene Dietrich and I really loved how she ended the film, as well a cameo from Zsa Zsa Gabor. However the biggest reason to watch the film is the way it's shot, which is gorgeous, and decades ahead of its time. The opening shot sequence alone, fluidly following the action through Mexican streets, is brilliant. I have to say it was a little hard to follow at times, with the actors talking over one another, which, while more realistic, makes it harder to hear the dialogue. I was also not wild about a young Dennis Weaver in the role of the kooky night manager. All in all, though, this is a film definitely worth watching, and definitely shows off Orson Welles' genius. I also loved this interchange: Heston: In any free country, the policeman is supposed to enforce the law, and the law protects the guilty. Welles: Our job is tough enough. Heston: It's supposed to be, it has to be. The policeman's job is only easy in a police state, that's the whole point, Captain. Who's the boss, the cop or the law? Indeed.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 12, 2016
    There are at least three different stories as to how Orson Welles became the director of "Touch of Evil" after an almost ten year absence of making films in Hollywood. One was that over drinks, he had asked producer Albert Zugsmith if he could direct and the producer agreed. The second story was that when the role of Miguel Vargas was offered to Charlton Heston, Heston was told that Welles was to co-star and that no director had been attached to the film yet. Heston recommended Welles should direct the movie. The third, and possibly my personal belief as to what happened, was that Welles was given another chance to work in Hollywood and their studio system once again. To prove how great of a director he was, and he is one of the ten best Classic Hollywood directors, he wanted to make a great film out of the worst script he could find. That script was an adaptation of the Whit Masterson novel "Badge of Evil." Welles allegedly rewrote the script and was given sole credit for it. He was also so eager to work in Hollywood again after making a few films in Europe that he only took an acting fee for his work. Before filming there was two weeks of rehearsals, which were unusual in 1957, and during that time, according to actress Janet Leigh who played Suzie Vargas, Welles asked all the actors for their input in helping with the film's dialogue. Welles wrapped up production on time and under budget and showed his cut to Universal. Universal objected and had the film re-edited and some scenes re-shot. The rough cut that Welles submitted to Universal no longer exists (just like his film submitted to RKO Pictures in 1942, "The Magnificent Ambersons." The film had nearly 40 minutes cut from it and without Welles' knowledge, a new, happier ending was filmed). There are three versions of the film that exist, the re-edited and re-shot film that included many scenes new to the film. They were directed by Harry Keller. Welles viewed the finished film that was 93 minutes long and made a 58 page memo detailing what he thought needed to be done in order to make the film work. The film ended up not being the film Universal or Welles had imagined and it was largely forgotten as a B-Movie. The film did, however, become quite popular in Europe. The 93 minute film was so confusing that many people had trouble following the plot. In the mid-1970's, Universal discovered they had a 108 minute cut of the film and released it to theaters in 1976 advertising it as "complete, uncut and restored." The film was not, however. Although the longer 1976 version pre-dated the 1958 release version, but post-dated Welles' 58-page memo. The 1976 version contained more Keller scenes than the actual 1958 release. Finally, in 1998, Academy Award winning film editor and sound mixer Walter Murch re-edited the film from all available cuts based on the Welles memo. Notable changes included the removal of the credits and Henry Mancini's music from the opening sequence, cross-cutting the main story and Janet Leigh's subplot ad removing Harry Keller's hotel lobby scene. Although, no true "director's cut" can or ever will exist, this is the closest to what Welles had intended. The film opens on the Mexican side of a border town as a man sets an egg timer attached to a bomb and places inside the trunk of an American couple's car as they drive to the border. The scene is a continuos shot that lasts three minutes and twenty seconds as the car passes newlyweds Miguel (Heston) and Suzie Vargas (Leigh) as they walk to the American side of the border. They stop after passing the border just as the car blows up and goes flying into the air, and that becomes the first cut in the whole film. Vargas is a narcotics officer who works in Mexico City and he understands the international ramifications of a bomb being placed in a car on the Mexican side blowing up on the American side and he is there to help local police. The local police is run by Captain Hank Quinlan (Welles), a towering figure whose size and ego exceeds everyone around him. Though Welles was not that big at the time, he used padding and he and cinematographer Russell Matty exaggerate his size by using unique camera angles. Many scenes show the camera looking up at the characters as they argue and shout at one another in many buildings. This same effect was used by Welles and cinematographer Gregg Toland in "Citizen Kane" to make Charles Foster Kane a larger than life character. Welles' Quinlan is unshaven with stubble on his face, he walks with a limp and mumbles and slurs many words except when he yells. Quinlan knows that it was dynamite that blew up the car and when asked how, he claims it's his intuition. That intuition led them to the apartment of the slain man's daughter who is secretly married to a Mexican named Sanchez (Victor Millan) who Quinlan claims stole ten pieces of dynamite from a construction site he recently was fired from. Quinlan maintains that Sanchez's motive is that his wife's father didn't approve of his daughter marrying a Mexican. Vargas is there for the interrogation and uses the restroom knocking over an empty shoebox. Later, Quinlan's best friend and longtime partner Joseph Menzies find two pieces of dynamite in that very same shoebox. Vargas questions Quinlan and accuses him of planting the dynamite there. In a subplot, the brother of a man being investigated by Vargas named "Uncle" Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff) is having his nephews and members of his drug cartel follow Suzie around. When Menzies picks up Grandi after realizing he was following Vargas' car to a motel on the American side that Menzies was driving, Grandi is taken to meet Quinlan. Grandi meets Quinlan and Vargas and other officers at Sanchez's apartment when the dynamite is found. Upon realizing that Quinlan is also having a problem with Vargas, Grandi offers Quinlan help in getting rid of Vargas. As Vargas tries to uncover the truth about Quinlan and reveal his findings to the District Attorney, Quinlan is trying to discredit Vargas and his wife by saying that the two are drug addicts and mixed up in the drug trade that Vargas is supposedly prosecuting. This leads everyone around Quinlan to question his intuition and integrity, and none moreso than his partner and best friend, Menzies. The film also features Marlene Dietrich and Joseph Cotton in small roles. There is no film quite like "Touch of Evil" ever made up to that point. It is considered the last film noir ever made. It is also considered be one of the greatest Orson Welles films ever made and one of the greatest films of all-time. Despite taking a generation or two for its due consideration as a fine piece of cinema. It's magnificent camerawork and direction is no match for many films made at the same time. The fact that the studio system was so hostile to Welles and many other filmmakers whose work would never be seen as the director intended gave rise to the growing interest in restoring many pieces of work of past cinema. Welles' 1966 film "Chimes at Midnight," also known as "Falstaff" was produced in Europe and has never fully seen a wide U.S. theatrical release until late last year when Janus announced a restoration of the film. For years, the film was available on VHS and import DVD with bad picture and sound. Hopefully, I and many other fans of Orson Welles will be able to enjoy a film whose legacy grew over time just like "The Lady from Shanghai" and "Touch of Evil."
    Joseph B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 23, 2014
    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 M Super Reviewer

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