Touch of Evil - The Masters of Cinema Series (Blu-ray)

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Orson Welles writes, directs and stars in this classic film noir. Set in a hellish Mexican border town, Charlton Heston stars as Mike Vargas, a self-righteous narcotics officer who goes up against the monumental Captain Hank Quinlan (Welles), an old-time detective who fabricates evidence in order to close a case based on his gut instinct. After an American businessman is killed by a car bomb, Vargas abandons his honeymoon to investigate. When he discovers the corrupt Quinlan planting evidence, Vargas decides to delve further into the captain's previous cases but he soon finds out first-hand the extreme lengths Quinlan will go to to preserve his reputation.

Product Details

Movies & TV
14 Nov 2011
Modern Classic
Region B
Number of Discs
  • Interactive Menus
  • Scene Access
  • Bonus Footage
  • Trailers
111 min
Age Restriction
Supply Source


Touch of Evil
Release Year
Running Time
111 min
Dramas / Cops / Essential Cinema / Film Noir / Framed / Mystery / Recommended / Suspense / Theatrical Release / Thriller
Orson Welles's TOUCH OF EVIL is nothing short of a masterpiece. Beginning with a three-minute-plus tracking crane shot, the film explodes onto the screen, literally--the marvelously expressive opening shot ends with a car blowing up, and that detonation sets into motion a classic noir tale of betrayal and murder. In a complex exploration of character and morality, Welles plays the racist Captain Hank Quinlan, a grotesque, troubled, and powerful figure who runs his small U.S. border town according to his own version of the law. Quinlan's brutishness and vulgarity contrast starkly with the idealism and playboy good looks of Charlton Heston as Mike Vargas, a Mexican detective trying to put away the leader of a dangerous family of drug dealers--the Grandis. In the U.S. with his new bride, Susie (Janet Leigh), Vargas becomes consumed with exposing Quinlan and his highly questionable methods--too busy to see that his own beautiful blonde bride is in serious danger from both Quinlan and the Grandis.

In 1998, Welles's film was restored closer to its creator's original vision, and it is a joy to behold. Every shot is impeccably crafted, every word of dialogue concise and pointed. The camerawork (by Russell Metty and John Russell) is stunning, particularly in the opening scene and the long single take in which Vargas believes he has caught Quinlan planting evidence. The supporting cast, led by Marlene Dietrich, Dennis Weaver, Akim Tamiroff, and Joseph Calleia, gives exhilarating performances. TOUCH OF EVIL, Welles's last studio film, is a near-perfect examination of the dark underbelly of society and the tragic downfall of a once proud man.
Theatrical release: February 1958, without being previewed for critics.

Filmed in Venice, California, which doubled for Los Robles.

Rehearsals began on February 9, 1957; shooting began on February 18 and wrapped on April 2.

TOUCH OF EVIL was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1993.

TOUCH OF EVIL was reedited in 1998 based on a 58-page memo that Orson Welles had written to studio head Ed Muhl after Welles's initial displeasure with the original release. The new version was put together by producer Rick Schmidlin and editor Walter Murch, based on the memo that was first written about in a Film Quarterly article by Jonathan Rosenbaum. In the memo, Welles wrote, "I am passing on to you a reaction based on my conviction as to what my picture ought to be, but only what here strikes me as significantly mistaken in your picture."

The long tracking shot that starts the movie was mimicked in Robert Altman's THE PLAYER. Welles was even prouder of the long take in the scene in Sanchez's apartment--which was completed on the first day of shooting.

Orson Welles was not supposed to be the director, but as a result of a misunderstanding on the part of Charlton Heston, the producer put him at the helm--but paid him no more money.

Marlene Dietrich gives a terrifically subtle performance as Tanya. Her character was not in the original script, but Welles added her at the last moment, telling her she should look "dark," as she did in GOLDEN EARRINGS. When the studio saw the rushes that included her, they were shocked.

Zsa Zsa Gabor also makes a brief cameo as the nightclub owner. She is called a "Special Guest Star" in the credits, along with Dietrich.

Regarding his heavy makeup, Welles said, "...padded stomach and back, sixty pounds of it, old-age stuff. When I came into the house, before I had a chance to explain that I had to get upstairs and take my makeup off, all these people came up and said, 'Hi, Orson! Gee, you're looking great!'"

Welles, who rewrote the script in just a matter of days, did not read the novel on which it was based until after he had completed the film.

A number of Mercury Theatre veterans appear in the film. A virtually unrecognizable Joseph Cotten plays the medical examiner. Gus Schilling, who played Goldie in THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, makes a brief appearance as Eddie Farnum. And Ray Collins, Jim Gettys from CITIZEN KANE, plays District Attorney Adair.

Welles wrote the character of Menzies for Lloyd Bridges, but the studio rejected that choice. He was ultimately thrilled with the work of Joseph Calleia, who played Menzies in the film.

After Welles believed the film was complete, the studio brought in Harry Keller to shoot some more scenes that the studio felt were necessary. The retakes were shot on November 19. Hearing about the new shoot, Welles wrote two letters to Heston nearly demanding he not participate. In the first letter he wrote, "UNLESS THE STUDIO IS STOPPED THEY ARE GOING TO WRECK OUR PICTURE--AND I MEAN WRECK IT....THE RESULT WILL BE GENUINELY BAD." Heston was in a tough spot because he had invested money in the production. Meanwhile, Welles was not even allowed back on the Universal lot. He said, "I was so sure I was going to go on making a lot of pictures at Universal, when suddenly I was fired from the lot." When TOUCH OF EVIL premiered as the second half of a double bill, the main feature was THE FEMALE ANIMAL, directed by Harry Keller.

Regarding the original released version of the film, Welles told Peter Bogdanovich, "[T]hey didn't absolutely murder it. I was very sorry about the things they did, but the story was still roughly intact when they finished. That wasn't true of ARKADIN, which was just made meaningless by the cutting."

The film screened at the Brussels World's Fair on June 8, 1958, and won the top prize from a jury that included Jean-Luc Godard and Fran├žois Truffaut.
Cast & Crew
Orson Welles / Harry Keller
Orson Welles / Joseph Calleia / Ray Collins / Marlene Dietrich / Zsa Zsa Gabor / Charlton Heston / Janet Leigh / Akim Tamiroff
Orson Welles
Henry Mancini
Albert Zugsmith
Director of Photography
Russell Metty
Aaron Stell / Virgil W. Vogel
Production Designer
Robert Clatworthy / Alexander Golitzen
Movie Critics
Entertainment Weekly
"...[A] splendid, definitive reedit of Orson Welles' noir great....Unspools with all the complex, unnerving menace its writer-director had in mind all along..." -- Rating: A
Lisa Schwarzbaum (2 Oct 1998, p.53)
New York Times
"Orson Welles's 1958 TOUCH OF EVIL is a work of slippery precision, a picture whose seductiveness is only enhanced by its refusal to surrender fully to our grasp."
Stephanie Zacharek (15 Sep 2008, )
"...Discover what the hullabaloo was about....Great Welles and a surprisingly good Heston..." -- 5 out of 5 stars - One for the Library
Marion Hart (1 Dec 2000, p.100)
Sight and Sound
"Welles shoots and -- to the extent that he controlled post-production -- edits the film in a fragmented manner which suggest that the line between good cop Vargas and bad cop Quinlan is particularly thin..."
Brad Stevens (1 Dec 2011, )
Total Film
"...Classic noir's final shout pits Orson Welles and Charlton Heston as rival investigators..."
George Kiritopoulos (1 Mar 2001, p.100)
USA Today
"...A masterpiece..." -- 4 out of 4 stars
Andy Seiler (9 Oct 1998, p.5E)