Movie Magazine International

Touch of Evil

USA - 1958

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

Universal Studios has put together a dynamite program of fourteen classic films noir that will be touring the country this Fall. The kick-off presentation is Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil" now restored to its full 108 minutes.

A good film noir presents a world so sordid, so slimy, so corrupt, that the audience should crave a moist towelette when it's over. As such, "Touch of Evil" more than fills the bill. At one point, a chararcter attempts to wash the blood off his hands in an open sewer. Forget the symbolism, the "EWWW' rating is off the scale.

Welles plays a legendary lawman known for always getting his man. If his methods aren't exactly by the book, too bad. Welles the actor makes excellent use of his considerable bulk. He's an aggressive if aging bull elephant, determined to see justice done. He's also, as Marlene Dietrich opines in a memorable cameo, a mess. Welles even disguised his puckish upturned nose, erasing any trace of the graceful, turning even it into a bloated monument to the hard-drinking his character had done. Beneath the dissipated exterior, though, is a sharp mind, but one poisoned by years of dealing with the lowest of the low-lifes inhabiting his border town fiefdom. He embodies the notion that to touch corruption, even if it's to eliminate it, is to be infected by it.

His nemesis is stalwart, granite-jawed Charlton Heston as a high-ranking Mexican official. This was a genius bit of casting. Even with the dark body make-up and hispanic accent, when audiences in 1958 saw big Chuck, they saw Moses and, thus, the perfect antithesis of Welles' cop gone bad.

They're both caught up in the mystery of a bomb planted in Mexico that explodes just across the border in the U.S. As the mystery deepens, no one is safe. Even Janet Leigh, as Heston's American wife, who incarnates luminous blond innocence corrupted against its will.

As any film buff can tell you, the solution to the mystery in "Touch of Evil" is given away in the breathtaking tracking shot that opens the film. But don't be put off. I promise you that even if you catch it, it won't ruin the rest of the film. The real surprise is not in whodunnit. It's watching a mythic struggle between good and evil and realizing how much they have in common.

© 1997 Andrea Chase Air Date: 10/22/97

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