Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Blind Spot Series - Touch of Evil

I have had 'Touch of Evil' sitting on shelf since I was still in college. I remember my film studies teacher telling me about film noir and this spurred me on to find more films to watch. I bought it, got excited about, got distracted by other film noir films (feels silly writing that) and its just been sitting on my shelf for 7 years.

'Touch of Evil', heralded as one of Orson Welles best films and as of the greatest thrillers, before seeing it I knew three things which it is famous for:

1. The opening tracking shot, no cuts for 3 minutes 20 seconds. Many other films have paid homage to this
2. Charton Heston plays a Mexican police officer - let that sink in
3. The various cuts of the film, especially the cuts that Welles originally wanted

The story is about corruption and has the usual Film Noir traits. Ramon Vargas (Charlton Heston), big-time police officer on Mexico City is on his honeymoon with his American wife Susan (Janet Leigh) near the border of USA and Mexico. A bomb is planted in a well known man's vehicle, he and his passenger are killed in the explosion. The detective in charge of the case is Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles), who conducts his investigation in a questionable manner. While Vargas takes an interest in the case, especially after he believes that Quilan has planted damning evidence on a suspect, he sends to wife to a safe place. She had been harassed by the member of the Grandi family drug gang, a member of which was facing a trial, Vargas being the arresting officer. Quilan soon becomes even more obsessed with Vargas getting in the way and concludes withe Grandi family to get rid of the interfering Vargas.
The plot does get thicker and it ends up moving faster but there are a few moments where it borders on the slightly ridiculous, and I don't mean trying to swallow Heston as Mexican. One particular moment is when Susan Vargas, hold up in a strangely remote motel is being surrounded by Grandi gang members, both men and women and loud music is blaring out loud. It is actually terrifying, that is until the music is suddenly turned off by the old motel manager. The gang members loose their menacing flow and start to look silly. Later on its explained that the gang drugged her up and took her clothes.
I love Film Noir, I will usually eat up most stories involving a detective, a murder and femme fatale to boot but there was something odd about the story and shift of focus on what was really important. It felt that the bomb that went off at the very beginning was a trigger but was actually just a very elaborate meet-cue for Vargas and Quinlan. The investigation into who planted the bomb seem to be solved within a few hours and was just a MacGuffin. The real story was about the corrupt Quinlan and exposing him while he gets drunk and makes even more bad decisions.

 My qualms about the story aside, there are some amazing shot in the film to admire and the choices actually make the film better for it. Welles used so many overhead shots intense conversations which would usually distract from the dialogue but they are used to brilliant perfection and in the right place. I admire Welles mostly for his direction on the film and less so his character as he tended to mumble quite a bit. The film is given a lift to intrigue from the start as the first shot is a bomb and the unknown planting it in a car, again unknown. The shot tracks the car then follows Heston and Leigh, while the car is still in the background or to the side. The audience is introduced to characters while still being drawn into the story as they know the car will explode any moment. The film's pace continues in this way often cutting between slow moments and action and it keeps the film rolling and doesn't feel like 90 minutes.

 I'll spare a moment for the world's most irritating character though, the night manager of the motel where Susan stays, played by Dennis Weaver.  This character made me so angry every time he was on screen. He did absolutely nothing to help the plot after twitch his way through a few scenes refusing to do anything that sounded like his job. I really wanted someone to just get him out of the picture.

I do feel that I waited too long to see the film as I think if I has seen it years ago, I would have been bowled over by the edit alone but now you really need a story that makes sense for me to fall in love with it.

Don't forget to check all the other Blind Spot Series entries and where it all started on The Matinee


  1. I picked up Touch of Evil on Blu-ray cheaply a couple of years ago and loved it, although I do share your reservations about Dennis Weaver's night man. A few minutes more of that character might have spoiled the film completely!

  2. I'm glad I'm not the only one slightly put off by the night man. Incredibly creepy. A different sort of noir for me. My favourite part has got to be the opening shot though.