johnlink ranks TOUCH OF EVIL (1958)

This is one I’ve been meaning to get to for a long time. I have a lot of respect for Orson Welles, and what he did for film. TOUCH OF EVIL is one of his landmarks, and I am glad to have finally caught up to it. I should note that I watched the 1998 re-issue, the one which was re-edited to Welles specifications. Though he is said to have not entirely disliked the studio cut which was released in ’58, he had always felt that it was not as it should be. I write the following ranking having no idea what was in the ’58 version and what was not. But knowing that it was good enough, at the time, to be a major influence on multiple directors.

This is a movie about a US detective (Welles) and a Mexican narcotics cop (Charlton Heston) and their investigation into a murder.

I watched TOUCH OF EVIL (1958) on 9.16.09. It was my first viewing of the film.

NOTE: THIS RANKING UTILIZES THIS SITE’S ORIGINAL SYSTEMIC ARTICLE WRITING METHOD. THE METHOD BY WHICH THE RANKINGS WERE ARRIVED AT, HOWEVER, REMAIN THE SAME.

FILM

As is typical in a Welles film, this is a beautifully shot picture. Every scene has meaning. When film students learn about mise-en-scen (which considers the composition of shots), cinematography, and the power of pictures, Welles is one of the places to go. Sometimes heavy-handed by today’s standards, Welles is absolutely one of the inventors of how we translate film pictures into meaning. We look at the climactic scene, taking place at an oil rig, and see it as an almost cliche comparison of a character’s corruption to the greed of the oil business. But Welles is one of the filmmakers’ who originated what would become cliche, not one of the ones to extend it. This movie’s drug references do feel a little out-of-date for today, but I think we can forgive that after fifty years. SCORE: 9

MOVIE

Not my favorite black-and-white picture in terms of entertainment. The plot moves along in the middle half nicely, but there are a lot of incidents of what we think will happen actually happening exactly as we thought. This is a film to consider more for its wonderful visual achievements then for its entertainment value. SCORE: 5

ACTING

You read that correctly above. Charlton Heston plays a Mexican. But he absolutely plays a Mexican like an American-Mexican, not like the other characters who are seedy stereotypical Mexicans. His performance is not spectacular, but it is well-grounded. Better is his wife played by Janet Leigh (who is written to be white). The roles were originally reversed in the first script, the cop was white, and his wife Mexican. Welles swapped the roles when he was chosen to direct, and it makes a much more interesting film. Welles himself is wonderful in this. We see the transformation from a man who has almost been waiting for his indiscretions to be discovered, and is all too happy to fall back into alcoholism once they are. It was good to see Marlene Dietrich in this, and she lends weight to a role which would otherwise be forgettable. SCORE: 7

WRITING

Certainly dated in some of its concepts of racism and drug addiction. The movie tries to stand up for Mexicans in the form of Heston, but ultimately reinforces stereotypes because we can’t forget that the only two sympathetic Mexican characters are actually played by Heston and Dietrich, who are both very white.

As I said above, there is certainly a sense of predictability about the plot. But the attack on Janet Leigh is a wonderfully written and executed sequence, which becomes more intense than I thought it would be. This script has its problems, but it also does more good then bad. SCORE: 6

FINAL TALLY

FILM: 9; MOVIE: 5; ACTING: 7; WRITING: 6

9+5+7+6+0=27

FINAL SCORE: 6.75

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~ by johnlink00 on September 16, 2009.

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