Movie Review: Touch of Evil (1958)

Starring: Charlton Heston, Orson Welles and Janet Leigh

Directed by: Orson Welles

While taking a quick honeymoon break with his wife, Mexico’s chief narcotics officer Mike Vargas is witness to a murder via a car bomb. He involves himself in the investigation and accuses police captain Hank Quinlan of foul play. While trying to prove Quinlan’s guilt he and his wife are in grave danger by a drug lord’s family who are tracking them both.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t watch enough of what’s considered ‘classic cinema’. I tend to mostly watch movies made within the last thirty years and rarely go beyond the eighties. This year I have tried to watch more older movies than I have done in the past with mostly good results. So far this year I’ve enjoyed The Night of the Hunter, The Collector, Some Like it Hot and Kramer vs. Kramer and obviously not everything pre-1980 is going to be of substantial quality as I learned with Born Free but so far more often than not I’ve been impressed with the overall quality. Orson Welles has been a director and actor that I’ve been meaning to check out for the longest time as off the top of my head I can’t recall seeing any of his work which may come as quite a surprise considering he’s deemed as one of the greatest of all time. After stumbling across Touch it Evil on Netflix I was excited to finally watch him in action.

I didn’t realise that Touch of Evil was a black and white movie until I pressed play and as the movie progressed I feel the dark nature of some of the characters were very well suited to the black and white grainy feel of how the movie was filmed. Touch of Evil was suspenseful and packed full of drama as Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston) and Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) go head to head in this brilliantly written crime movie. I was unaware Charlton Heston was the lead star until I saw his name pop up in the opening credits and to be honest I had my reservations about him as I don’t judge him as being a talented actor anymore, I judge him based on his gun peddling political agendas. I had to look beyond my own personal dislike towards the man and try and enjoy his performance which in all honesty was rather good as he was fun to watch. Orson Welles was the star of the show however as he played veteran police captain Hank Quinlan who is a man that cuts a few corners in order to ‘solve’ the crimes that he’s investigating. He’s gritty and imposing and towards the end he’s bordering on psychotic which was something that Welles was able to pull off incredibly well.

In older movies such as this there is a high importance on the use of music and Touch of Evil utilises its sound very well as it really helps set the atmosphere of the the dark natured scenes. For all it’s positives there were a few flaws that held this movie back a little. Outside of Orson Welles, Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh who were the 3 main stars of the movie, there wasn’t much else in the way of great acting from the supporting cast. While Akim Tamiroff as Joe Grandi was fairly decent, the rest of the cast however were largely mediocre or poor which let Touch of Evil down a little bit. Finally, the timeline of the movie seemed very quick and rushed. The entire movie takes place within a 24 hour period and for me everything that happens just seems to happen too conveniently and quickly, I think the story would have best been told over a few days as opposed to just a single day.

Overall, I was very impressed with Touch of Evil as it had some great lead acting displays from Orson Welles in particular as this movie truly utilises the black and white style. A movie that is packed full of drama and suspense despite feeling a little rushed.


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