Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Touch of Evil

Orson Welles, 1958, bw (8.3*)
Whether you love Welles or not, you have to admit that this is one unique and bizarre crime film. True to classic noir, this one also has its seminal scenes at night, in fact most of the action is in the dark, like the souls of many in this film. It's a dark and almost dreary film, but that's true of much of classic noir.

Charlton Heston is Mike Vargas, a Mexican narcotics officer, whose honeymoon to Janet Leigh is interrupted by a murder in a border town that happens after someone places a bomb in the trunk of a car on the Mexican side of the border that then drives back across, while on the same street. Vargas is soon dealing with the police chief on the U.S. side, a long-time corrupted Hank Quinlan, to whom his law is 'the law', played with cynical gusto by Orson Welles. Quinlan is all too ready to convict an innocent Mexican-American, but Vargas begins probing into his checkered past.

Meanwhile his wife Susie (Leigh) is not only out of danger at a seedy motel, but right in the middle; this part is inexplicably broken up by a sudden comic appearance by Dennis Weaver as the dumbfounded but pruriently interested hotel clerk, in one of the more bizarre performances in cinema history.

This examines racism along the Mexican border as well as police corruption, and does it in classic film noir dark palette and lighting, with hardly a character you'd want to know personally, even Heston's, for he wouldn't last long in the real world by diving into the fire. More than a clash of individual personalities and ethics, it becomes an inter-racial and cross-cultural statement on mutual cooperation and understanding.

Those interested in Welles should by all means see Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. Touch of Evil is No. 125 on the IMDB 250, and is No. 30 on our compendium of all film polls - so it's obviously ranked much higher by critics than the public.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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