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Touch of Evil

Directed by Orson Welles

USA, 1958

Cornerhouse, 20 October 2013

Touch of Evil

The opening shot is the famous one, and it hooks you right from the off.

The ticking bomb placed in the parked car, the driver arriving with his passenger and the car moving off, driving through the cluttered streets of the small border town, nearly colliding with Vargas (Charlton Heston) and his wife (Janet Leigh), there on their honeymoon, who sometime later kiss – just before the bomb explodes.

Welles sculptures a compelling drama of disillusion and betrayal out of, let’s be frank, some rather shoddy pulp material, which is to say that it is not a perfect film.  The behaviour of Vargas’s wife, for example, is not only implausible, it’s absurd.  And as for Charlton Heston in black face: the word ‘silly’ doesn’t quite do it justice.

At the film’s core, beyond the parade of grotesqueries, is the relationship between Quinlan (Welles) and his sergeant (Joseph Calleia),  the cop who (as Marlene Dietrich says at the end) loves him.  During the course of Quinlan’s investigation, that bond (the one true thing in both their lives) is eroded until it finally hangs by a thread.  And in the end the grimy tide drowns all.

Touch of Evil is showing again as part of the Matinee Classics season on Wednesday, further details are here.