This afternoon I caught an old black and white movie. From 1958, it was a film noir from director / writer Orson Welles (“Citizen Kane”, “The Stranger”) titled “Touch Of Evil”.
Welles wrote the screenplay for the film, based upon a Whit Masterton crime novel, published in 1956, called “Badge Of Evil”.
When the movie was first released the studio, Universal, had made a number of cuts and re-edited it, even shooting some new footage, much to the director’s displeasure. When he viewed their version he penned a fifty-eight page memo to the studio’s head of production with details of changes he felt necessary in order for the film to work properly. This was essentially ignored and a 93 minute version was released. A new version has now been issued, with much of Welles’s intentions attempted, which runs for 110 minutes. It was this version that I watched.
The film begins with a shot of a man planting a homemade bomb into the boot of a car in a small Mexican border town, Los Robles. A couple, American Rudy Linnekar (Jeffrey Green) and a blonde named Zita (Joi Lansing – “Hillbillys In A Haunted House”, “Who Was That Lady?”) get into the car and slowly make their way through town towards the border.
On the way they pass Mexican drug-enforcement official Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston – “Planet Of The Apes”, “Soylent Green”) and his new American bride Susan (Janet Leigh – “Psycho”, “The Manchurian Candidate”) who are themselves walking to the border on their wedding night.
When the car explodes, just over the border into the USA, killing the occupants Mike sends Susan back to a hotel in Los Robles to wait for him while he attends the scene, realising that the bomb must have been planted on Mexican soil and the potential diplomatic issues to could arise.
Captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) is amongst the US police detectives to arrive to investigate, along with his long-term partner Sergeant Pete Menzies (Joseph Calleia – “Gilda”, “The Alamo”).
When Quinlan and Menzies discover that Linnekar’s daughter Marcia (Joanna Moore – “Follow That Dream”, “Above All Things”) has secretly married a young Mexican called Manelo Sanchez (Victor Millan – “Giant”, “Scarface”) he quickly becomes their prime suspect.
Meanwhile, Susan has attracted the unwanted attention of local man Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff – “A Scandal In Paris”, “Seduction Of The South”) whose brother is about to stand trial in Mexico with Vargas to give crucial evidence.
Vargas arranges for Susie to move hotels to avoid any further problems with Grandi and Menzies takes her to the Mirador motel – staffed by a very nervous night manager (Dennis Weaver – “Duel”, “McCloud”). It later transpires, however, that unfortunately the motel is owned by the aforementioned Grandi.
Sanchez is arrested when dynamite is found in his apartment but Vargas accuses Quinlan of planting the evidence – which Quinlan denies, accusing Vargas of siding with Sanchez because they are both Mexican. This leads to each taking action to discredit the other. Vargas looks into the records of Quinlan’s many successful past convictions, whilst Quinlan is approached by Mirador motel owner Grandi with a scheme.
How far, and how low, are these two prepared to go in order to gain the upper hand?…
Welles and Heston are superb in their respective roles and Leigh is also fabulous as the beautiful wife in peril. There are some genuinely nasty moments throughout the film making it one of, if not the, darkest film of this era that I have seen.
I have to be honest and say I’ve never seen this film, in any version, before today so am not in a position to comment on the one I watched vs. the originally released print. What I can say, though, with complete confidence is what a great movie it is. A superior film noir…