Touch of Evil (1998)

Posted on February 10, 2011

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If this version of the film, based on the 50-page memo written by Welles to Universal Studio, is indeed what Orson Welles had envisioned, then this film is a fitting final work by the master director.

The film is typical Welles in the sense that visuals take the center stage–right from the brilliant opening scene to the climax. That opening scene is something that Hitchcock would have given his happy nod to. Within no time, we feel worried for the happy-looking couple on the street; we want them to get away from the doomed car. This is pure and perfect suspense.

The film is rich in claustrophobic energy–crammed spaces, over-lapping dialogues in English and Mexican, and way too many people in small rooms. Even when the characters are in the open, somebody is always trailing somebody.

The Susie subplot literally sent shivers down my spine. It was eerie because a few years later Janet Leigh who plays Susie will find herself in a deserted motel run by a psychotic young man and be brutally stabbed to death. Here, Susie stays in a motel run by a crazy young man and is terrorized by a gang of lawless, drug-addicts who most probably gang-rape her [it is not made very clear in the film if a gang-rape does take place].

Welles plays a seedy, corpulent, old detective who is famous for the numerous cases that he has solved and his intuition. This is a mesmerizing performance. Welles is shot in tight frames to emphasize his bulk, and to suggest that when it comes to Detective Quinlan there is no room for any other view point; he decides who the offender is and then gathers or rather plants evidence.

Quinlan is very much in the vein of the tragic Shakespearean hero. Nowhere is this aspect more in evidence than the film’s climax — the lovely, haunting music floating from Marlene Dietrich’s house, Quinlan’s confessions echoing in the dark night, his desperate attempt to wash away the blood on his hand, and finally his dead body floating in the dirty water.

This is an absolutely riveting and stunning film and is not to be missed.

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Posted in: Reviews