Touch of Evil (1958)

Touch of Eviltouch-of-evil-1958
Directed by Orson Welles
Written by Orson Welles based on a novel by Whit Masterson
Universal International Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#343 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Tanya: He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?

Orson Welles ends the film noir era with a bang.

As the film begins, we see the trajectory of a car bomb as a couple drives from a Mexican border town into the United States, where it explodes.  At the same time, Mexican police official Mike Vargas (Charleton Heston) is walking across that same border with his new American wife Susan (Janet Leigh).  The location of the explosion determines jurisdiction and Police Captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) is in charge of the investigation.

Vargas takes an interest in the case and is allowed to observe Quinlan’s investigation as a courtesy, a decision Quinlan mightily resents.  Vargas is appalled at Quinlan’s tactics.  Quinlan is famous for his “hunches” and he manages proceedings so that his hunches are always proved right.


In the meantime, Vargas is scheduled to testify against a drug lord in Mexico City.  The drug lord’s brother, “Uncle” Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff) is determined to prevent him from doing so.  Knowing that Vargas himself is untouchable, he sends his numerous nephews to get to him through Susan.  With Joseph Calleia as Quinlan’s right-hand man, Marlene Dietrich as an old friend of Quinlan and Zsa Zsa Gabor as a strip club owner.


This is a fantastic look at the underbelly of humanity.  It has not just a touch of evil, but is permeated with it.  The performances are all just wonderful, if you pretend that Heston isn’t supposed to be playing a Mexican.  This time I concentrated the richly human performance of Calleia.  I’d rank it as Welles’s second-best film and that puts it pretty high up the best pictures of all time list.  Very highly recommended.


Clip – Orson Welles and Marlene Dietrich

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