POSTERS: Touch of Evil

Ever since first seeing Touch of Evil (1958) it has been one of my favorite films. It is often cited as one of the last examples of film noir but that statement is partially incorrect because the term, while largely associated with the 40s/50s hard boiled crime films is not a true genre but rather an aesthetic used in films from crime cinema to psychological thrillers to sci-fi. Film Noir also surpasses the iconic black and white films and moves into color and is still a main component in modern cinema (look at films by David Fincher for example).

For Orson Welles, Touch of Evil was a major return to form and a lot of film geeks consider it to be just as good or better than his timeless masterpiece Citizen Kane. Speaking personally, as much as I love Touch of Evil, I still think Kane is better.

In a strange bit of casting, Charlton Heston the All American actor was chosen to play Mexican DEA official Mike Vargas who has just married the young blonde beauty Susie (Janet Leigh). In the opening minutes of the film, we watch as the couple cross from the Mexican border to a U.S. bordertown. Meanwhile a car which has had a bomb placed in the trunk makes its way past them. Welles used an extensive tracking shot here as the two newlyweds move simultaneously with the car. When the bomb finally explodes killing the people inside, a crowd gathers and a suspicious Mike decides to stay in town and investigate since the bomb originated in Mexico. He soon meets the town police Captain, Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) who is a bloated loudmouth that doesn’t take guff from anyone, especially Vargas who he considers an intruder in his domain. As Vargas interrogates Quinlan and the local citizens further, he begins finding evidence that leads him to uncover corruption within the police force.

Like Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil is filled with a plethora of colorful characters, some oddly comical (like the hotel owner played by Dennis Weaver) to the leather clad Mexican teen gang who provide an air of menace when they show up. Famed German actress Marlene Dietrich plays Tana one of the films standout characters. She is one of Quinlan’s old friends and cares about him but also knows he’s headed down a path of self destruction.

When Welles finished production and sent the film to Universal it was supposed to be released as his comeback but instead the studio treated it as just another B-movie and even put it on a double bill UNDER the bigger budgeted production The Female Animal starring Hedy Lamarr. Needless to say, Touch of Evil was not well received and sort of sunk into obscurity.

It wasn’t until decades later that Touch of Evil was given its due as a classic of its time. In 1998, Universal brought in Walter Murch who re-edited the available extra footage and by using a memo Welles wrote. The original rough cut didn’t exist, so a true Welles cut couldn’t be made but minor edits and sound were fixed for the details Welles could see were unnecessary in the original version. The 1998 edit, had a limited but successful theatrical release (again by Universal) and was subsequently made available on DVD. The DVD includes a reproduction of the 58-page memo.

Touch of Evil is now considered by some to be “the best B-movie ever made”.

Touch of Evil (French)

This weeks furious poster is for the French release of the film. It’s actually even got more visual flair then the US poster when you compare them which is why I chose it. Unlike the American audiences at the time, the Europeans, (especially the French) thought the film was very good and it was well received by them.

FURIOUS FILM GEEK TRIVIA: The audacious opening tracking shot was later  replicated in Brian DePalma’s 1974 cult classic Phantom of the Paradise



Editor-In-Chief of The Grindhouse Cinema Database/Furious Cinema contributor. Pete is a rabid movie geek who enjoys everything from wild n' crazy exploitation/cult flix to big budget mainstream classics. His other interests include: graphic design, cartooning and music.

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1 Response

  1. February 28, 2012

    […] making Psycho, Hitchcock was highly impressed with Orson Welle’s film noir mystery he wanted to try to best him with his own extravagant opening tracking shot. Both movies are black […]

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