February 25th: Touch of Evil


Release Date: 1958
Director: Orson Welles
Why I picked this: It’s about time to watch some older movies

It’s one of the last “classic noir” films ever directed, and it sure is a good one. Beginning with a masterfully directed tracking shot following a car and a couple, this classic is instantly memorable for its visuals, dialogue, and use of music. There’s some great directing here, as expected from the man who gave us “Citizen Kane.” Shots are framed very well, with a creative use of shadows to shroud certain characters in mystery. Deep focus is used, putting everything on frame in focus; every shot is densely filled as a result. The dialogue is very intricate and detailed as well. There’s a certain classiness to what many of these characters are saying. I loved moments in which conversations would overlap and characters would talk over each other. All of the conversations in this movie felt organic as a result. One of my favorite aspects of the movie is the use of diegetic sound, specifically the use of music. Songs playing in the background of the scenes perfectly matched the tone of the conversations being held; it really set the tone for these scenes. Songs are constantly playing throughout the movie, but it is seamless and never distracting. There is also a great musical score that fits very well with the music played within the world of the movie. The film’s plot is an interesting one; it takes place at the U.S.-Mexico border, and begins with a car bomb planted on the Mexican side killing the occupants of the car on the U.S side. Most prominently involved in the investigation are drug enforcement official Mike Vargas, played by classic movie actor Charlton Heston, and police captain Hank Quinlan, played by writer/director Orson Welles. As the plot progresses, there becomes a clearer line between the two characters, regarding their motivations and intentions. The U.S.-Mexico border could very well be a metaphor for the line between good and evil. Quinlan comes across as having a philosophy of “the ends justify the means”; upon watching his actions in the film, the title “Touch of Evil” will begin to make more sense. The end result of his actions might not make him look like a bad man, in fact, he has quite a good reputation, but his methods are questionable. The visual atmosphere of the movie creates a shroud of ambiguity. Welles plays Quinlan with an appropriate amount of menace. Vargas is shown to have standards; he has some heroic qualities, but there are moments where he might considered being right on that line between good and evil. Heston’s performance is effective, but not necessarily impressive. I also find it strange that they didn’t have a Hispanic actor play Vargas. The only other performance I really took notice of was Dennis Weaver as a mentally challenged manager of a motel in which Vargas’ wife stays at; he is very good at playing someone who is frantic and confused. This movie has a lot of classic noir elements, such as the use of low angles and an overall cynical tone. The ending did a decent job wrapping the plot up; I found the editing to be a little haphazard at this point, though.

Very well directed with a special attention to dialogue and music; the visuals and themes are very much like those you would find in noir, but Orson Welles himself is really the only impressive main actor.


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