Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"you haven't got any. your future is all used up."

One of the last true Hollywood film noir pictures was Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958). Centered in a bordertown between Mexico and the United States, the film is about how easily the law, justice, and personal interest can become tangled. Charlton Heston appears (in dark makeup and moustache) as idealistic Mexican drug enforcer Mike Vargas, who recently wed the beauitful-but-dumb American Suzie (seriously - who in their right mind would voluntary follow a strange man halfway across a sketchy Mexico town?). Mike soon begins work with corrupt U.S. police chief Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) to solve the murder of a local businessman and his girlfriend. While on the case, Mike seeks to expose Quinlan's frauds, while a parallel plot with Suzie being kidnapped by Mexican drug lords ties the narrative together. A pre-Psycho Janet Leigh, who just about has the worst luck when it comes to motels, stars as Heston's bride, who spends most of the film holed up in a bordertown motel or being doped up by "reefer stubs and heroin." The gorgeous Marlene Dietrich pops up as Quinlan's former amour and local madam. Keep an eye out for cameos from Welles' friends and colleagues, like Joseph Cotten, Mercedes McCambridge, and a young Zsa Zsa Gabor.
The film was controversial on its release due to the massive reediting the studio did from Welles' original cut. The DVD version released in 1998 aimed to honor Welles' vision for the film, closely following his original 58-page memo he sent the studio after screening the finished product. The opening shot of the film is amazing - a three and a half minute tracking shot that delves straight into the action of the story and succeeds in creating great suspense in the audience. Despite the controversy, the film is a treat to watch - no matter what version you're seeing.