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Touch of Evil (1958)

Black is Black ! — Written by lezard on 08.02.2020

A lost motel run by a misfit. Janet leigh, undressed. Does it ring a bell ?

This scene was watched by Alfred Hitchcock (who must have been inspired) before he actually shot it and made a masterpiece out of it. But the movie we are talking about is « Touch of Evil » by another genius: Orson Welles.

The movie begins with a piece of anthology : a 3-minute-12 long sequence shot. Of course, every movie-maker would gulp at the sheer virtuosity of the scene, but rather than the very performance it highlights, it is its absolute relevance and the way it heralds the whole movie which fascinates. It starts with the timing of a bomb and ends up on a kiss, which litterally triggers the explosion, a brilliant idea. Between the 2 moments, a carnival of sound and pictures unfolds, illustrating what the movie is about : the crossing of (all) borders. Seldom have we heard such an invading and essential soudtrack as well.

The movie is set in a border-town between the USA and Mexico. Corruption, smuggling, violence are everywhere. Vargas (C. Heston), a Mexican cop married to an American (J. Leigh) comes to help detective Quinlan (O. Welles) in an investigation.

The plot is thin but matters much less than the toxic, stifling atmosphere. The picture itself seems corrupted and many framings are twisted. Everything looks as excessive, distorted and fat as Quinlan's body. It is a theatre of shadows, a carnival of lost souls, the sunset of a decaying world. Gang rape, hallucinations, drugs. Very rare and stunning scenes in the puritan America of the 50's.

« Touch of Evil » is the baroque poem of the night, a somnambulic ambulation between 2 worlds : a hybrid border-town, a grey zone between law and order, good and evil, rough bars, sleazy motels, industrial no-man's land. Borderline characters flirting with insanity, silhouettes, nightmares.

Final scenes among oil-wells where machines, like Welles himself, fumble deep into the world's heart to dig out the blackness/darkness it hosts.

Welles, as usual is a monster of an actor. His funeral oration is recited by Marlene Dietrich, like a ghost right out of a Von Sternberg movie : « He was some kind of a man ! »

This movie has the beauty of the devil.

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Touch of Evil Reviews