Saturday, April 13, 2013

Touch of Evil (1958)

Director: Orson Welles

Starring: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Joanna Moore, Ray Collins, Dennis Weaver, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The Strangest Vengeance Ever Planned!

Plot: Mexican Narcotics officer Ramon Miguel 'Mike' Vargas has to interrupt his honeymoon on the Mexican-US border when an American building contractor is killed after someone places a bomb in his car. He's killed on the US side of the border but it's clear that the bomb was planted on the Mexican side. As a result, Vargas delays his return to Mexico City where he has been mounting a case against the Grandi family crime and narcotics syndicate. Police Captain Hank Quinlan is in charge on the US side and he soon has a suspect, a Mexican named Manolo Sanchez. Vargas is soon onto Quinlan and his Sergeant, Pete Menzies, when he catches them planting evidence to convict Sanchez. With his new American wife, Susie, safely tucked away in a hotel on the US side of the border - or so he thinks - he starts to review Quinlan's earlier cases. While concentrating on the corrupt policeman however, the Grandis have their own plans for Vargas and they start with his wife Susie.

My rating: 8.5/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

Heston as a Mexican?  Just roll with it.  He's always fun, though, if a bit hammy every once in a while.  For the most part I dig the cast.  Janet Leigh spends a few scenes in a state of undress (it's 1958 so she's not going ALL the way...nuts). Orson Welles is one hell of a bastard.  Then there's Dennis Weaver's over the top performance as well as Akim Tamiroff (was this guy ever NOT over doing it?).  Those two could have toned it down a few notches. Other than that this is one great ride of corruption.

It's easy to laugh at how drugs are portrayed after all these years (it would have been more straightforward had it been in a lower budget exploitation picture).  Hollywood can't get too gritty.  How about them reefers?  I love that term.  Anyway, the picture moves at a steady and sure pace until the explosive finale.  Henry Mancini's score pops with excitement.  I also LOVE the way Welles moves his camera.  The opening long tracking shot is remarkable not only in the technical achievement of it's uncut length but in the suspense created by it with the bomb in the car.

It occurred to me last night while I watched this at my new favorite theater, The Castro in San Francisco, that I saw this in a theater a very long time ago, probably in New Orleans. It's one of only a couple of classic movies that I've had the pleasure of seeing on the big screen.  I've been doing a lot of business travel recently and San Francisco is becoming more of a second home.  The Castro is an old, opulent theater that's probably getting close to being a hundred years old.  It's like stepping back in time.  I love it.  I wish I could live across the street from it.  I wish I could marry it.  Nah, just kidding.  I'll settle for having a lusty affair instead.

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