Close Up

20 - 25 January 2018: Touch of Evil


Touch of Evil
Orson Welles
1958 | 108 min | B/W | 35mm

“Setting fire to the film’s relentless velocity, the infamously electrifying opening one-take shot celebrates its own virtuosity by incorporating the time it will unfold into the plot. An incessant stream of talk, collusion and activity swirling around every dark corner, Welles’ barren border town seems to exist in a cinematic purgatory, hovering between a seedy naturalism and the cunning artifice of a Hollywood set. The unusual casting of Charlton Heston as wholesome Mexican police official Mike Vargas and Marlene Dietrich as a jaded, fortune-telling madam suits the dense interplay of cinematic stereotypes and their opposites constantly joining and repelling one another. Uneasily reflecting his failed attempts to maintain authority over his studio pictures, Welles himself plays the corrupt, corpulent detective Hank Quinlan, whose personal traumas have festered and now contaminate everything he touches. By the time his intricate schemes reach Vargas’ wife (Janet Leigh), her torment in a remote hotel room run by an awkward eccentric has uncannily predated Psycho by a couple of years, and the breathless darkness of Touch of Evil carries on to haunt innumerable filmmakers – from Robert Altman to David Lynch.” – Harvard Film Archive

Part of our Orson Welles retrospective