Archive Cinema City 2008.

Touch of Evil

Touch of Evil

Genre: Drama
Country: USA
Year: 1958.
Duration: 95 min

Director: Orson Welles
Scenario: Whit Masterson (novel), Orson Welles

Cast: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff

Programme selection: Peđa's Film Collection

Synopsis:
In a complex exploration of character and morality, Welles plays the racist Captain Hank Quinlan, a grotesque, troubled, and powerful figure who runs his small U.S. border town according to his own version of the law. Quinlan's brutishness and vulgarity contrast starkly with the idealism and playboy good looks of Charlton Heston as Mike Vargas, a Mexican detective trying to put away the leader of a dangerous family of drug dealers - the Grandis. In the U.S. with his new bride, Susie (Janet Leigh), Vargas becomes consumed with exposing Quinlan and his highly questionable methods - too busy to see that his own beautiful blonde bride is in serious danger from both Quinlan and the Grandis. In 1998, Welles's film was restored closer to its creator's original vision, and it is a joy to behold. Every shot is impeccably crafted, every word of dialogue concise and pointed. The camerawork (by Russell Metty and John Russell) is stunning, particularly in the opening scene and the long single take in which Vargas believes he has caught Quinlan planting evidence. The supporting cast, led by Marlene Dietrich, Dennis Weaver, Akim Tamiroff, and Joseph Calleia, gives exhilarating performances. Touch of Evil, Welles's last studio film, is a near-perfect examination of the dark underbelly of society and the tragic downfall of a once proud man.

Awards:
National Film Registry, 1993 National Film Preservation Board, USA
Special Award, 1998 New York Film Critics Circle Awards
Historical Shot (Phillip H. Lathrop), 1999 Society of Camera Operators

Trivia:
- Was screened at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair, where judges (and then critics) Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut awarded it the top-prize. It was said the film was a great influence on starting Godard's and Truffaut's illustrious careers, both of whom within a year went on to make their first films À bout de souffle (1960) and Les quatre cents coups (1959), respectively.
- Marlene Dietrich and Zsa Zsa Gabor share a title card ("Guest Starring Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor"). Gabor has a bit part; she is onscreen for twenty seconds at most. Dietrich has a pivotal role and appears in four crucial scenes including the finale.
- The opening scene took an entire night to get right, mainly because the actor playing the customs officer kept blowing his lines. It was beginning to get light on the horizon when Orson Welles made the final take of the night, saying to the cast, "All right, let's try it one more time." Then he looked at the actor and said, "If you forget your line this time, just move your lips and we'll dub it in later, but please God do NOT say, 'I'm sorry, Mr. Welles!'" This is the take seen in the film.
- When Orson Welles discovered that his film was recut, he wrote a letter to the production house with specifics on how he would have wanted the film to be released. This memo, thought to be lost, was found to be in the possession of star Charlton Heston and was the basis for the re-edited 1998 re-release.
- The film takes place in a fictional Mexican border town, Los Robles, but was filmed in Venice, California because the place looked convincingly run-down and decayed.
- Orson Welles was originally hired only to act in the film, but due to a misunderstanding, Charlton Heston understood that Welles was to be the director. To keep Heston happy, producer Albert Zugsmith allowed Welles to direct. Welles made major changes to the already-completed script, including changing Heston's character from a white district attorney to a Mexican narcotics agent, changing Janet Leigh's character from Mexican to American, and changing the setting of the movie from a small California town to a Mexican-American border town..
- At first, Orson Welles wanted nothing to do with the picture. He reluctantly agreed after a contract deal forced him to.
- Oscar winner Mercedes McCambridge, only appears in the film because she was having lunch with Orson Welles during filming and Welles convinced her to film a scene. Welles had her wear a leather jacket, he cut her hair himself and had her character say the sinister line, "I wanna watch."
- The first scene filmed was the interrogation of Sanchez, under the watchful eye of Universal executives. Orson Welles did it quickly as proof he could make the film within the budget ($825,000) provided and with a 38-days shooting schedule.
- The film was a box office failure in the U.S. in 1958, but was well received in Europe.
- The 1998 restoration was supposed to premiere at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival. However, the day before the premiere, the showing was canceled by Beatrice Welles, Orson Welles's daughter who has a long history of interfering with showings of her father's work through threats of litigation. The restored DVD was to have included a commentary as well as a documentary on the film and restoration titled Restoring Evil. Both of their inclusions on the DVD were stopped by Orson Welles's daughter, Beatrice Welles.
- Despite popular speculation, Orson Welles is wearing make-up throughout the film. For hours every night, they'd add pounds and pounds onto him, and use prosthetics for his face. He once said that he was late going to a dinner party at his house during the filming, and arrived with his make-up still on. A famous actress approached him when he entered and in all seriousness said: "Orson! You look wonderful!"
- Orson Welles initially despised the title "Touch of Evil", having had nothing to do with its conception. Over the years, however, he grew to like it, and eventually considered it the best title out of all his films.
- Orson Welles claimed to have only seen this film once, at the one screening that the studio provided prior to his writing of the memo.
- The role of the motel night manager was written specifically for Dennis Weaver, because Welles admired his work on Gunsmoke (1955) and wanted to work with him.
- Orson Welles claimed to have only read "Badge of Evil" by Whit Masterson, the novel on which the film was based, after he completed the film. He based his rewrite of the screenplay upon Paul Monash's initial treatment.
- The entire film was shot on real locations, apart from the infamous ten-minute take in the Mexican shoe store clerk's apartment, which is actually a set. The studio wanted the entire film to be shot on sets, even going so far as to build numerous locations on its lots, but Orson Welles insisted on filming in a real city, settling for Venice, California, when he couldn't get his initial choice of Tijuana.
- Orson Welles said that this was the most fun he'd ever had filming a picture, unlike most of his Hollywood films, because he wasn't troubled by studio interference (until after he completed the picture, anyway), he was given a healthy budget and he was working with a crew of some of his favorite actors on a script that didn't involve as much symbolism and all-out cinematic tricks as something like Citizen Kane (1941).
- Executives from Universal Pictures only found out that Marlene Dietrich was playing Tanya when they saw the rushes for that day's shooting; she had filmed her part in one day as a personal favor to Orson Welles and he had not told anyone about it. She agreed to appear at minimum union wage, but when the studio execs decided to give her on-screen credit, they had to pay her more.
- Orson Welles stated that his goal with the film was to infuriate the audience with the plot, in much the same way that Howard Hawks did with The Big Sleep (1946). The story became even more confusing once the studio re-cut the picture.
- According to Orson Welles, Universal didn't want the film to be screened at the Brussels World's Fair, but the head of distribution had such faith in the film that he submitted it without the studio's knowledge. He was subsequently fired once it was awarded the top prize.
- Janet Leigh's agent initially rejected her participation in this film due to the low salary offered without even consulting the actress. Orson Welles, anticipating this, sent a personal letter to the actress, telling her how much he looked forward to their working together. Leigh, furious, confronted her agent telling him that getting directed by Orson Welles was more important than any paycheck.


(click to enlarge)