Touch of Evil (1958)

Day two of the DailyWatch is done with a classic noir written and directed by Orson Welles. Touch of Evil has plenty of ties to the world today despite being released in 1958.

The amazing Latino actor, Charlton Heston (yes, I know. It was a major distraction throughout the whole movie) played “Mike” Vargas who was coming to a city on the border between the USA and Mexico with his new American wife Susan (Janet Leigh). Vargas was a big time Mexican narcotics officer who had to interrupt his honeymoon after a car bombing shook the town. Police Captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) had the case on the US side of the border and went about hunting down suspects. Quinlan was a legendary figure in the area, but his legend was fueled by some questionable arrests that he had made.

Quinlan had narrowed the suspects down to a Mexican man named Manelo Sanchez (Victor Millan). Quinlan planted evidence in Sanchez’s room, but he had done so in a way that Vargas had known he had done it. This set the two lawmen on opposite sides of the case.

This film has so much to say about the world around us right now that it is amazing that it was made over 60 years ago. The racism on display, the police officers with their corrupt tendencies, the cartels with their drugs. The struggle between the honest police officers and those that abuse their position of authority.

Orson Welles was fantastic as the damaged detective, whose actions became worse as the film moved on. He had existed on reputation for years and when that reputation is shaken by Vargas, he spiraled out of control.

While Charlton Heston is always a great performer, seeing him as a Mexican man is something that he would never be able to do today… just ask Scarlett Johansson.

The film was beautifully shot, the black and white the perfect look for this noir. Welles clearly is a master of the director’s chair and the highlights of this film are tremendous.

Touch of Evil is a great movie that is held back by a little questionable casting.

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