Film Flick: Touch of Evil

Friday, November 23, 2012

One of the last of it's kind from the film noir classic period, Touch of Evil
starts off with one of most famous opening sequences on film- a continuous three and half minute long shot, in which the viewer will see a car bomb's fatal journey to the American/Mexican border. It was the longest running shot in cinema history, and the movie itself is like that shot. It's an intellectual achievement, and beautifully done, but just damn long.

When a bomb explodes at the border, Mexican detective 'Mike' Vargas (Charlton Heston) knows it might damage Mexican/U.S. relations. So, he finds himself on the crime scene with- and sometimes at odds with- the local cops, led by Captain Hank Quilan (Orson Wells) . Vargas' wife (Jaent Leigh) meanwhile finds herself at odds with the Grandis, relations of those her husband has so recently put away as drug-runners. Between drugs, death, racism, and a personal drive for justice, it might be that everything has just a Touch of Evil along one of the longest open borders in the world.

Like the film itself, A Touch of Evil's making, from pre to post production, is a long and twisting tale with surprise appearances, changing purposes, and in-fighting to boot. Orson Welles originally was only hired to act in the film, but a misunderstanding had star Charlton Heston believe the man was also directing. In an effort to keep Heston happy, Welles was given the reins. One of the first things Welles did was to make major scripts rewrites. These included changing the race of several main characters. He made Heston a Mexican narcotics cop as opposed to a white lawyer, and switched Janet Leigh's role to an American blonde. He put major names into the film who were not originally hired for any role. Marlene Dietrich agreed to appear, working only for union wages, as a favor to Welles, a fact the studio only discovered when looking at rushes. Zsa Zsa Gabor makes a bit appearance, as does Mercedes McCambrige. "Fired" during post-production (in reality Welles cut the film, then left for on -location shooting of another film before the studio had seen the cuts), Welles was replaced. Harry Keller reshot and re-cut to the studio's desires. Welles came back and then recut that cutting, leaving a product that neither Universal nor the director were truly happy with. In later years, the studio released a "director's cut", which is now what is commonly watched. This cutting was based off of memos sent at the time, but a true "director's cut" is lost to the movie goer.

Twisting as the tale is, this noir is not for the easily bored. The film is long- almost too long, in fact. Each plot thread is revealed slowly, and often confusingly, yet looking back on it, I'm not sure it could have been done any other way.  It could be said that Welles' biggest failure is not even the speed, but a sense of his verging onto the almost too intellectual or too complex. One's whole brain must be engaged in this dark thriller. One of his greatest themes though, has very little to do with the complex plot or the twisted motives of each man. Commentary on racism is in almost every interaction. It makes the viewers face their own prejudices, and stare their results guiltily in the eye. In his film, it has never been clearer that right and wrong, good and evil are subjective to eyes of the men. But is even justice blind?



9 comments

  1. That existential question about justice...looks like a great flick I'm going to check it out.

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    1. Excited to see what you think about it!

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  2. I looooove this film! Love it love it.

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  3. this actually sounds really intense for an old film! i always picture older films being boring (i really haven't seen ANY older films) but this sounds pretty exciting, to be honest. might have to watch it. wonder if it's on netflix?

    xx. amber

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    1. Some older films are lighter- comedies and musicals- but a darker, more complex genre of films known as Film Noir (which this is one) emerged post WWII and are just great. This was on Netflix when I watched it, so hopefully it is for you too!

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  4. One of my absolute favorite films of all time. Orson Wells was a force to be reckoned with. I also thought that the longest running shot was the hallway scene in The Shining. Good to know!

    WWW.ROXTHEFOX.COM

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  5. I've never seen this. Sounds interesting!

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  6. Such a long one but seriously amazing! I love Orson Wells in this fully obsessed with Film Noir some of the best old movies :)

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