Touch of Evil - Classic Film Pick
In 1957 "Touch of Evil" became Welles's first return to studio work in Hollywood after his experimental version of Macbeth ten years earlier. Universal hired Welles to write, direct, and act in what they considered to be a B-picture. Little did anyone know that "Touch of Evil" would mark the end of the cinematic movement known as Film Noir. Welles adapted "Touch of Evil" from a functional pulp novel called "Badge of Evil" (by Robert Wade and H. Bill Miller), and crafted it into a bizarre anti-capitalist, anti-racist morality tale. Welles cast himself as Captain Quinlan, a nasty police officer with a low code of ethics. By telling the linear story from three different viewpoints, Welles avoids structural clichés like flashbacks or narration. Welles was careful to give special attention to the material's obsession with vice that colors every scene. In one of the most harrowing scenes in all of film noir, Janet Leigh is drugged and lies passed-out in a darkened hotel room where Quinlan strangles to death a Latino man against the brass bedpost where she lies.
Marlene Dietrich speaks the film's theme lines as Tana, a Mexican prostitute with a German accent. Every frame of Dietrich's non-blinking screentime spits humanist ethics against the corruption that surrounds her character. When Quinlan comes sniffing around Tana's brothel in the middle of the night, he asks her to read his fortune. Tana replies, "You haven't got any; your future's all used up. Why don't you go home?" Dietrich's bedroom eyes belie the somber world-weary tone of her gutsy character. The lines are all the more poignant because "Touch of Evil" also represented a kind of finishing touch for Welles's and Dietrich's careers. Welles once fought in a bullring in Spain during his youth, and went on to spend his life searching for cinematic challenges that could match the power of a grunting bull. In "Touch of Evil," Welles finally kills his metaphorical toro.
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