Touch of Evil

Orson WellesUSA111 minutes1958PGB&WEnglish

Dec 31
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Orson Welles directs and stars in this fevered film noir classic, playing a beastly, bloated detective in a seamy border town who draws a straight-arrow Mexican narcotics agent (Charlton Heston) and his blonde, all-American bride (Janet Leigh) into a labyrinth of corruption, drug-peddling and murder.

"The high point in Orson Welles's career, after Citizen Kane" (Tom Conley), this marimba-propelled tale of mendacity turns its every improbable shot, from the famous opening long take forward, into a feast of seedy sensibility. Following an explosive incident at a border crossing, a Mexican narcotics agent (Charlton Heston) honeymooning with his new bride (Janet Leigh, warming up for Psycho) gets caught in a labyrinth of corruption, drug peddling and murder, all of it engineered by the beastly, bloated detective Hank Quinlan (Welles). A big, tawdry pleasure machine, Touch of Evil is enlivened not only by its lurid high style, but also by a game-show cast of international has-beens, wannabes, and yet-to-bes, including Marlene Dietrich (memorable as a fortune-telling cantina queen), Zsa Zsa Gabor, Akim Tamiroff, Dennis Weaver and, most bizarre of all, an uncredited and androgynous Mercedes McCambridge, who whines "I wanna watch!" as a gang of hopped-up leather boys circle round Leigh's virginal bride in an isolated motel room. Re-edited according to Welles' original intentions, this restored version brings new clarity and even more virtuoso fireworks to the director's high-'50s fandango of bras, bongos, and barbiturates.

Jesse Wente

Jesse Wente is Ojibwe from Toronto. A broadcaster, public speaker and curator, he has appeared on CBC Radio's Metro Morning as film and pop culture critic for 20 years and currently serves as Director of Film Programmes, at TIFF Bell Lightbox, overseeing Theatrical, Cinematheque, Film Circuit and Exhibition programming. Wente has curated retrospectives on Indigenous Cinema, Tim Burton, Stanley Kubrick, Michael Mann and Keanu Reeves. He has appeared in movies such as Reel Injun and Nightmare Factory. Currently a board member on the Toronto Arts Council, Wente has also served on the boards of the imagineNATIVE Festival and Native Earth Performing Arts.