Touch of Evil (1958)
Director: Orson Welles
Screenwriter: Orson Welles based on Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson
Cast: Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Janet Leigh, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Ray Collins, Dennis Weaver, Valentin de Vargas, Mort Mills, Victor Millan,Harry Shannon, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Mercedes McCambridge, Joseph Cotton and Marlene Dietrich.
Tagline: THE STRANGEST VENGEANCE EVER PLANNED!
Miguel “Mike” Vargas (Heston) and his new bride, Susan (Leigh) are visiting a small Mexican/American border town. Mike is a Mexican Special Prosecutor. Susan is an American. Their honeymoon is cut short when a car bomb explodes killing two people. Although the explosion took place on the US side, the bomb was planted while the car was in Mexico.
Mike tells Susan to go back to their hotel while he assists with the initial investigation. Hank Quinlan (Welles), the local police Captain, arrives and takes over the investigation. Quinlan is a recovering alcoholic, and a bigot with a bad attitude. In short order, Quinlan has a suspect. He’s a Mexican married to the daughter of one of the victims. It looks like an open and shut case when two sticks of dynamite are found in a shoebox. What Quinlan didn’t know is that Mike had accidentally knocked the shoebox over minutes before. The box was empty. Mike accuses Quinlan of setting the kid up.
Meanwhile, Susan is stopped before she gets to the hotel. Her husband is prosecuting a drug case against a major Mexican crime family. “Uncle” Joe Grandi attempts to scare Susan and sends her to the hotel with a message for Mike to drop the case. Uncle Grandi learns that Mike won’t back down and that Mike has made an enemy of Quinlan. Grandi approaches Quinlan and suggests a partnership. They’ll kidnap Susan and force Mike to do their bidding.
Of course things don’t go as planned for anyone.
Thoughts (beware of spoilers)
Touch of Evil gets better with every viewing. If someone preferred it over Citizen Kane, I wouldn’t argue.
Janet Leigh is best known for her role in Psycho. She shows a wider range here and if Norman Bates saw how sexy her character is, his head would explode.
Welles is the powerhouse behind Touch of Evil. He adapted the novel and made changes to improve the story. He starred in and directed the film. When Universal Pictures locked him out of the editing booth, Welles submitted a 58 page memo of suggestions to improve the cut. Decades later that happened. The restored version won several awards and a spot in the National Film Registry.
Heston and Welles have a great supporting cast. Akim Tamiroff as Uncle Joe Grandi is both funny and scary. Welles wanted Dennis Weaver to improvise. Weaver took that to heart. His character is all over the place… and I mean that in a good way. Zsa Zsa Gabor shows up in a blink-and-you-might-miss-her cameo. While you can have eyes wide open and miss Joseph Cotton’s. For Mercedes McCambridge’s role, she dyed her hair, adopted an accent and rough look. While some of the folks are only on screen for a short time, their impact is huge.
Touch of Evil (1958) rates 5 of 5 stars.