Touch of Evil (1958) An Appreciation
Amazing, brilliant, ahead of it’s time, edge of your seat……etc.
I sure do love it when my sons come back from ‘the movie room” and ask if I’d like to watch a classic with them.
When the title is Touch of Evil I jump at the chance. So the cut we watched is The Restored Version which was put together as per Orson Welles’ 58 page memo to the studio heads. Naturally the studio pretty much discarded the memo and released the flawed version with the extra footage spliced in.
It’s films like this that excite me and make me realize that my passion for great movie making is as strong as ever. So why do I love this film so much?
Ultimately it’s a combination of things from the camera work and the screenplay to the list of performers and what they bring to their respective roles.
The camera work is of course stunning from the famed opening shot to it’s always being on the move. The angles and looking at characters from the ground up in so many cases.
The Noir shadows are all here, perhaps best noticed in the bedroom scene with Leigh, Welles and Tamiroff. The closing shots at the finale and how Orson repeats the scene ……no spoilers….sorry. While there are those that due to other versions find the plot distorted and hard to follow, I have no such problems with this version of the film and find it enthralling as the tug of war develops between Heston and Welles.
The in joke of Captain Quinlan’s cane or should I say ‘Kane”. Gotta love it.
Charlton Heston who was in his prime years here is top billed but by no means does the film belong to him and as much as it’s a ensemble piece, the film belongs to it’s director and leading character Orson Welles. If only Hollywood could hold off Academy Award nominations for about 25 years after a film is released they could get it right. To realize that this film received no award nominations of any kind, in front of or behind the camera is an unbelievable miscarriage of justice that only Welles’ Hank Quinlan could “fix”.
Janet Leigh is perfectly terrified as Heston’s wife. Akim Tamiroff while mean spirited is wonderfully gullible, hairpiece and all. Joseph Calleia practically breaks your heart as his character struggles with right and wrong and his love for Welles’s Quinlan.
Squirrelly Dennis Weaver, Joseph Cotten, Valentin de Vargas and of course Marlene Dietrich are all here and effective in their roles. It’s Marlene that has my favorite line in the movie when she is asked to read Orson’s future. No I’m not repeating it, go watch it again. You’ll thank me.