Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Eight, Part Two – ‘Touch of Evil’ (1958)

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The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. 80 years of film making is covered in the choices, from the last, inaudible breath of the silent era through to the age of billion-dollar budgets and CGI.

It’s the second of this week’s movies and Fred’s gone for a film that has been called ‘the greatest B-movie ever made’. No, Yasser, Bruce Campbell’s not in it

You can read the entires from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.

You can also access the lists so far by clicking here for Fred’s and here for Yasser’s.

Yasser: Fredders! It’s ‘Touch of Evil‘ time

Fred: Yes

‘Touch of Evil’
1958 – USA
Director: Orson Welles
Starring: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akin Tamiroff

YA: Start us of with why you picked this movie

FS: Firstly, like a few of my other movies so far, it’s very atmospheric. I love film noir and this, despite being the last of the classic noirs, is my favourite. Secondly, it has a good plot and a great script, and thirdly, Orson Welles.

YA: As actor, director or screenwriter?

FS: All three. He was a genius. He steals the film from the rest of the cast.

YA: Charlton Heston was my biggest niggle. He acted like Heston acts – very good, on point – but he was not very convincing as a Mexican.

FS: He is generally considered the weak link

YA: I can get past Moses with blue eyes and light-brown hair. they need a talented actor and it could have been hard to get an authentic-looking, up and coming actor. But there could’ve been an authentic Mexican to play this part and play it well.

FS: I’d heard before I’d watched it that he was terrible so I was actually pleasantly surprised. It’s just what happened in that day and age.

YA: Ricardo Montalban would have been perfect, I reckon

FS: Good shout!

YA: Until they said Mike Vargas (Heston) was a Mexican I was confused, and it set me back. The film then had to be awesome for me to like it.

FS: Oh dear. It was on the back foot straight away then as he’s the first character you meet, along with his wife (Janet Leigh)

YA: Leigh was very good. She was a strong female character, unfaltering and unafraid even though the situations she puts herself in are dangerous.

FS: She is good. She goes through a lot, mainly because of Heston’s bullishness and Welles’ malevolence.

YA: She does, and she handles it well until she gets the intruders in her hotel room.

FS: Inter-racial marriage must have been a bit of a no-no back then as well.

YA: …wasn’t REALLY inter-racial though, was it?

FS: Hispanic man marries WASP girl. It was quite daring, and probably contributed toward the decision to cast a white actor in make-up.

YA: There were many political choices in the ‘Golden Age’ for the wrong reasons. He spoke Spanish like an American, which ruined the interrogation scene in Sanchez’s house. Heston lacked passion when the character required it.

FS: I agree he was miscast. With a more suitable actor, I reckon this might have made my top five.

YA: I can understand that.

FS: Did the film ever recover from the ‘Heston as a Mexican’ thing?

YA: The story was well executed. I loved the gritty realism of it. It dealt with heavy issues that would have been quite taboo – drugs, strip-clubs, rape…

FS: Yes. It was quite revolutionary. What did you think of Orson Welles as Hank Quinlan?

YA: Stole every scene. Outclassed everyone, even though he mumbled every line.

FS: That never did Marlon Brando any harm.

YA: His direction was also outstanding. That opening shot, just flowed for ages…

FS: It’s one of the most famous shots in cinema, due to its length. I think the great thing about how ‘Touch of Evil’ was shot is that all the outdoor scenes are quite wide-angled, long and flowing, where as anything indoors was full of close-ups and crowded rooms to make it feel claustrophobic.

YA: It was dark and gritty, more like ‘Chinatown‘ than ‘Sunset Boulevard‘. Some of it was slightly exaggerated but it worked.

FS: Apart from Heston, did anything else let the film down?

YA: It didn’t feel very fluid at times.

FS: Famously, the movie was hacked to bits by Universal without Welles’ input. The version you watched had to be put together years later according to his notes. Do you think that is to blame?

YA: I can see what you are saying, but that is what I saw. I’d like to have seen more on how Vargas and Grandi (Akin Tamiroff) were connected. That was rushed. Also, some things didn’t feel natural. They felt deliberate.

FS: Such as?

YA: Vargas knocking over the shoebox in the bathroom. Who keeps shoeboxes in a bathroom?

FS: That was quite sign-posted.

YA: You can tell the editing team did not have the director around. It lets the movie down a lot.

FS: It’s such a shame.

YA: (laughs) Is this making you sad?

FS: (laughs) How about some good things?

YA: The finale was clever. I liked that final scene.

FS: A slow chase, but agonisingly tense nonetheless

YA: Even Heston is good, telling Quinlan how being a cop isn’t supposed to be easy.

FS: Well he was always good at integrity.

YA: (laughs)

FS: How much of Orson Welles’ output as an actor or director had you seen before this? And has this made you more or less likely to seek out other films of his?

YA: I have been putting off watching ‘Citizen Kane‘ for a long, long time. I’ll watch it soon I think, now.

FS: What’s put you off?

YA: It’s reputation for being slow-paced and boring.

FS: Yasser! What the fuck? Since when has ‘Citizen Kane’ had a reputation for being “slow-paced and boring”? It has a reputation of being ‘the greatest film ever made‘.

YA: I know that, but people have told me it’s slow and boring.

FS: Who? I want to know because if I know any of them they are getting a kick up the arse.

YA: (laughs) You don’t know them.

FS: Good! Welles was a genius. His influence on American cinema must be up there with Chaplin‘s.

YA: I think I will watch ‘Citizen Kane’ before anything else before you butcher my cat.

FS: (laughs) What about film noir? Does this make you hungry for more?

YA: I’ve always liked that style. The themes, camera work, settings, the music. It’s grittiness too.

FS: What sets ‘Touch of Evil’ apart for me is that film noirs are known for snappy dialogue with lots of wise cracks. ‘Touch of Evil’ has a much more natural style. There is lots of overlapping dialogue, for example.

YA: The dialogue isn’t quick-witted, but it is real.

FS: Exactly.

YA: Before I sum up, I want to ask why you love this movie?

FS: Thrillers are probably my favourite kind of movie and this is probably the best pure crime thriller I’ve ever seen. I like the story, I like the relationship between Welles and Heston, even though Heston was miscast. Welles’ Hank Quinlan might be my favourite villan ever.

YA: Okay, but how does it make you FEEL? Getting emotion from you is like drawing blood from a stone.

FS: When I watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life‘ I expect to get emotional. When I watch ‘The Odd Couple‘ I expect to laugh. When I watch a thriller I want something engaging – a story I have to concentrate on. Like ‘Chinatown’ if you aren’t paying attention, you won’t be able to work out what’s going on. I’ve seen a hundred thrillers that aren’t worth the effort. ‘Touch of Evil’ is definitely worth the effort. It’s clever, well done and makes sense.

YA: Okay, well, for me, ‘Touch of Evil’ is let down by Heston. He’s the hero of the story and you simply can’t believe in him as a Mexican. But you have to ask what makes a good hero? The villan. Welles gives an amazing performance, switched on even when you don’t think he is. His unpredictability makes hm even more of a genius in his undertaking of the role.

FS: Good, good…

YA: As a director he pulled a strong performance from Janet Leigh. Mrs Vargas remained resilient in adversity. That’s a huge plus for me. The ending was clever, and the film’s themes were ahead of its time – drugs, rape, brothels – they stood out to me, so the shock factor in 1958 must have been greater.

FS: Okay

YA: The travesty, and another let-down is how the film was edited without Welles. With him involved at the editing stage this could have been an epic movie for all who see it. Luckily, Welles’ direction, screenplay, and performance as the antagonist saves the picture and carries it from a five to a very high 7/10.

FS: Phew! I told you he was a genius.

Next week: Domestic terrorism in ‘Four Lions’ and just a domestic over ‘Wild Strawberries’


5 thoughts on “Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Eight, Part Two – ‘Touch of Evil’ (1958)

    […] Touch of Evil […]

    […] last few weeks, Yasser, you have watched movies directed by some of the greats such as Polanski, Welles and Wilder. This week it’s Ingmar Bergman and the film that brought him to international […]

    […] out of this looking like a massive pervert. ‘Chinatown‘ – incest and rape; ‘Touch of Evil‘ – rape; ‘Back to the Future’ – comedy […]

    April 21, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    Reblogged this on PORTAFOLIO. BITACORA DE UN TRANSFUGA. 2000.2010 and commented:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional)

    […] a more serious tone than many of the others, which were normally out-and-out comedies. With ‘Touch of Evil‘ you saw one side of the crime genre – a serious, bleak side. Here you get the lighter […]

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