Touch of Evil is a 1958 noir film directed by Orson Welles and starring Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh. It is one of the director’s best works and it is to me a pretty good movie, although very flawed in some areas.
It is about a Mexican man and his American wife who are caught in a variety of criminal and corrupt actions on the U.S.-Mexico border. Now first of all, I genuinely enjoyed this plot. It is entertaining and at tomes quite thrilling and very atmospheric. It is also a very well crafted and edited movie. What I liked the most about it is its incorporation of some clever themes. It wonderfully explores the misuse of power and the corruption in the police force. It also handles the subject of xenophobia towards Mexicans pretty well.
But on the other hand, that story is still way too simplistic and in its first half pretty ordinary. There are also some rather annoying and even racist moments. And the whole movie has some sort of negative energy filled with all-out craziness that I did not enjoy. But the biggest problem for this movie was Orson Welles himself. I have to admit that I am in the minority and that I am not a fan of his and usually his movies as well. And although I liked this one, I still would have preferred it to have been directed by a different director because I personally dislike his directorial style which is most evident in Touch of Evil itself. It is filled with weird camera angles with some even being very frustrating. I like a professional, still cinematography and I dislike this wild one at display here. Also the music. It is so uneven in tone and so out there, filled with a plethora of different styles that do not mash well together. I strongly disliked the direction here and it ruined the movie to some degree for me.
The characters are mostly good. Vargas is a typical good-natured protagonist but his troubles are relevant and well explored. Susan is also quite good and the relationship between the two is sweet. But Quinlan is of course the highlight with such a menacing presence, realistic behavior and some very powerful sequences. As for Mexican characters, they are all very typical and not at all memorable or likable.
The acting is superb here with Orson Welles being terrific. Yes, while I dislike his directing, I really like his acting on the other hand. And here is no exception. He gave life to the most important and best realized character here with a powerhouse performance to boot. Janet Leigh is also pretty good and I don’t know why she never had a particularly big career when she was a pretty good actress. But Charlton Heston is the weak link. And along with the directing, his performance is the biggest flaw in Touch of Evil. He’s just so-so, mostly whispering and at times when great acting is needed, he is rather mediocre and very problematic. My polarizing relationship with this actor continues as I think he is great in some movies but in others is pretty weak and this is unfortunately one of his weakest performances.
It is technically an ok film. The imagery is really evocative and the atmosphere is quite chilling with some rather tense scenes. The score and directing I disliked as mentioned before, but the acting is mostly good and the script is very sophisticated with some clever themes nicely realized. And the dialogue is very good and the overall movie is very realistic and admittedly quite memorable. It is not one of the best movies of 1958 and is a bit overrated, but this is still quite a good movie with many choices that bothered me, but with some that I found intriguing as well.
Touch of Evil has such a sophisticated script with nicely explored themes of corruption and xenophobia, it is also very well acted and quite atmospheric with a great villain and some intense moments, but it is also filled with some poor choices such as uneven score and annoying cinematography plus Charlton Heston gives one of his worst performances here. It is a very good film, but still far from great.