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Artistically innovative and emotionally gripping, Orson Welles' classic noir is a visual treat, as well as a dark, sinister thriller.
All Critics (76)
| Top Critics (18)
| Fresh (73)
| Rotten (3)
| DVD (8)
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.
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.
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.
Having the Touch of Evil envisioned by our most creative filmmaker, is a wondrous gift no movie lover should miss.
[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.
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.
Citizen Kane may be the more weighty, rounded work, but Touch of Evil is a heap more fun.
What a film this is.
... a wild masterpiece, a sleazy, grimy, jittery, and ultimately dazzling work of cinematic magic.
Welles manufactures another of his masterly treatises on the power of light and shade - Touch of Evil is as gothic and expressive as any Murnau picture.
Touch of Evil is one of Welles' most entertaining movies, and probably his sleaziest.
It is typical of Orson Welles that he takes a B-movie thriller set on the Mexican border and gives it a Shakespearian grandeur.
Even the bad in this, and there's plenty of that, plenty, is better than most of the poop you usually digest. Excellent performances throughout. Janet Leigh's amazing until you see what Dietrich could do with a single shot.
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.
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.
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.
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