The Essential Movie Library #44: Touch of Evil (1958) - The Culture Files Blog - Los Angeles magazine
 
 

The Essential Movie Library #44: Touch of Evil (1958)

Punk noir 20 years before Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives,” set in the nameless bordertown of your nightmares.

Punk noir 20 years before Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives,” set in the nameless bordertown of your nightmares, this is one of those strange movies where the stars happened to align, even if in the form of a corpse among the constellations. The casting of Charlton Heston as a Mexican agent on the most frustrating honeymoon weekend of all time with bodacious newlywed Janet Leigh—she of breasts so lethally pointed that Madonna would build stage routines around them—has been a running joke ever since, never told with more glee than by director Orson Welles.

In fact it was Heston who got Welles the directing gig, and it was Welles who then turned Heston’s character into a Mexican, the whole enterprise clearly dedicated more than anything to messing with people’s preconceptions (this was when Heston routinely played the likes of Moses and Andrew Jackson). As well there’s a grab-bag of misfits as unlikely as either Heston or Welles (playing a cop monstrous inside and out, as obsessed as he is corrupt) including Zsa Zsa Gabor as a madam, Joseph Cotton as a coroner, Dennis Weaver as a motel manager, Mercedes McCambridge as a lesbian hoodlum, and Marlene Dietrich as a gypsy with half the movie’s best lines. There have been at least four different cuts of Touch of Evil, the first by Welles and lost to the ages, the most controversial (and maybe definitive anyway) a 1998 edit based on a 58-page cri de coeur written by the director to the studio heads. Evil won the film festival at Brussels’ World Fair where judges like dazzled young turks Francois Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard, each a year from making his first movie, took note. 

Read them all:  
The Essential Movie Library #43: Once Upon A Time in the West
The Essential Movie Library #42: Belle de Jour
The Essential Movie Library #41: Apocalypse Now
The Essential Movie Library #40: Out of the Past
The Essential Movie Library #39: Branded to Kill
The Essential Movie Library #38: The General
The Essential Movie Library #37: Lord of the Rings
The Essential Movie Library #36: Aguirre, the Wrath of God
The Essential Movie Library #35: Raging Bull
The Essential Movie Library #34: The Rules of the Game
The Essential Movie Library #33: Chinatown 
The Essential Movie Library #32: Stalker
The Essential Movie Library #31: Weekend
The Essential Movie Library #30: Some Like It Hot 
The Essential Movie Library #29: Red River
The Essential Movie Library #28: The Passenger
The Essential Movie Library #27: Singin' in the Rain
The Essential Movie Library #26: Heat
The Essential Movie Library #25: L'Atalante
The Essential Movie Library #24: Sunrise
The Essential Movie Library #23: His Girl Friday
The Essential Movie Library #22: Black Narcissus
The Essential Movie Library #21: Blade Runner
The Essential Movie Library #20: Persona
The Essential Movie Library #19: The Shop Around the Corner
The Essential Movie Library #18: Lost Highway
The Essential Movie Library #17: Tokyo Story
The Essential Movie Library #16: 8 1/2

The Essential Movie Library #15: City Lights
The Essential Movie Library #14: Seven Samurai
The Essential Movie Library #13: Lawrence of Arabia
The Essential Movie Library #12: Citizen Kane
The Essential Movie Library #11: Jules and Jim
The Essential Movie Library #10: My Darling Clementine 
The Essential Movie Library #9: Double Indemnity 
The Essential Movie Library #8: That Obscure Object of Desire 
The Essential Movie Library #7: 2001: A Space Odyssey 
The Essential Movie Library #6: Casablanca
The Essential Movie Library #5: The Lady Eve
The Essential Movie Library #4: The Third Man 
The Essential Movie Library #3: The Passion of Joan of Arc 
The Essential Movie Library #2: Vertigo 
The Essential Movie Library #1: The Godfather Trilogy

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