Film Notes: Touch of Evil (1958) directed by Orson Welles

USA / 111 minutes (restored version) / Universal Pictures Dir: Orson Welles Pro: Albert Zugsmith Scr: Orson Welles Story: from the novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson Cine: Russell Metty Mus: Henry Mancini Cast: Charlton Heston (Ramon “Mike” Vargas), Janet Leigh (Susan Vargas), Orson Welles (Hank Quinlan), Joseph Calleia (Pete Menzies), Akim Tamiroff (Uncle Joe Grandi), Marlene Dietrich (Tanya), Mercedes McCambridge (Hoodlum), Zsa Zsa Gabor (Owner of Nightclub), Ray Collins (Adair), Dennis Weaver (Motel Manager) Release Date: 21 May 1958

Summary Plot: While passing through the seedy border town of Los Robles, newlyweds Mike and Susan Vargas witness a car bomb explosion in which Rudy Linnekar, a local construction magnate, and his female companion are killed. Suspecting that the bomb was planted on the Mexican side of the border and may be the work of the Grandi narcotics ring, Vargas, the Mexican head of the Pan-American Narcotics Commission, offers his assistance to the Los Robles officials investigating the case. The lead detective, the obese and lumbering Capt. Hank Quinlan, rudely rebuffs Vargas’ offer and makes subtly racist remarks. However, Quinlan’s partner, the loyal Sgt. Pete Menzies, and Adair, a district attorney, apologize for Quinlan’s behavior and invite Vargas to observe their investigation because of his status as a highly placed Mexican government official. In the meantime, a group of young Mexican men working for “Uncle” Joe Grandi, a small-time crime boss with a bad toupee, bring Susan, an American, to Grandi’s headquarters in a sleazy hotel. Grandi warns Susan of dire consequences if her husband continues his prosecution of Grandi’s brother, an imprisoned drug dealer awaiting trial in Mexico, but Susan, unimpressed, insults Grandi by calling him a “lop-sided Little Caesar.” While investigating the case on the Mexican side of the border, Quinlan visits the tawdry brothel run by Tana, a former lover, and the place fills him with nostalgic yearnings. Tana, who at first does not recognize him, looks upon Quinlan with pity and suggests that he “lay off the candy bars” which he has substituted for liquor since going on the wagon several years before. Upon learning of Susan’s encounter with Grandi, Vargas decides that she will be safer stashed in a motel on the American side of town while he continues working on the Linnekar case. (Read full summary at American Film Institute here)

It is generally accepted that Touch of Evil marks the end of the ‘film noir’ classic era,  the one that goes from the early 40s and extends into the late 50s. Touch of Evil is a masterpiece written directed and performed by Orson Welles. It was his fifth Hollywood film, and the last one he made in America. The film suffered multiple vicissitudes until 1998, when it was restored, based upon a recently discovered memo of editing instructions, written by Orson Welles himself, and addressed to Ed Muhl, the boss of Universal International. The new version has now 111 minutes in length, in comparison with the 93 minutes of the earliest version. A must see for all film aficionados.

Notas de cine: Sed de mal (1958) dirigida por Orson Welles

Argumento: Un agente de la policía de narcóticos (Heston) llega a la frontera mexicana con su esposa justo en el momento en que explota una bomba. Inmediatamente se hace cargo de la investigación contando con la colaboración de Quinlan (Welles), el jefe de la policía local, muy conocido en la zona por sus métodos expeditivos y poco ortodoxos. Una lucha feroz se desata entre los dos hombres, pues cada uno de ellos tiene pruebas contra el otro. (Filmaffinity)

Se acepta generalmente que Sed de mal marca el final de la época clásica “del cine negro”, la que va de los principios de los 40 y se extiende hasta finales de los 50. Sed de mal es una obra maestra escrita dirigida e interpretada por Orson Welles. Fue su quinta película rodada en Hollywood, y la última que hizo en los Estados Unidos. La película sufrió múltiples vicisitudes hasta 1998, cuando fue restaurada, en base a un documento recién descubierto de instrucciones de edición, escrito por el propio Orson Welles y dirigido a Ed Muhl, el jefe de Universal International. La nueva versión tiene ahora 111 minutos de duración, en comparación con los 93 minutos de la primera versión. De visión obligatoria para todos los aficionados al cine.

2 thoughts on “Film Notes: Touch of Evil (1958) directed by Orson Welles”

  1. One of my favourite films Jose Iganicio – very dark and brooding but truly unforgettable – and I think the re-edit from the 90s is the preferable version overall.

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