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ORSON WELLES AGAINST CHARLTON HESTON IN 'TOUCH OF EVIL'

Janet Leigh with Charlton Heston and Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL Year: 1958 Bullets: ****1/2

Through the years since 1958, Charlton Heston felt love, then hate, then love for TOUCH OF EVIL director Orson Welles, being that he's responsible for suggesting that Welles... initially cast as the literal heavy as crooked border police captain Hank Quinlan... also become the film's director for Universal Pictures... 

The same studio that would throw the legendary auteur off the lot upon seeing the first cut, deemed too dark and disturbing (commonplace now); after which, decades later, adhering to Welles's 58-page memo, Universal provided a faithfully-restored version: showcasing the opening 3 1/2 minute one-shot-take through an entire street, up and around buildings, trading-off various source music with overlapping dialogue, initially littered with opening credits...

Janet Leigh with Charlton Heston in TOUCH OF EVIL with Orson Welles

Strangely enough, some still prefer the original cut's eclectic and chaotic, offbeat cadence, which was actually bad editing to an otherwise brilliantly shot film noir where Orson's Quinlan butts heads with lead actor Charlton Heston, playing a Mexican cop, only infamously panned in retrospect... 

The extremely popular actor not only handles the part in a calm, subtle fashion but, without using a distracting fake accent, he doesn't rely on his signature overacting... this isn't a Biblical epic after all... plus he started out with another subdued performance in the b-crimer DARK CITY...

Orson Welles takes the lead for TOUCH OF EVIL

Which, like many other film noirs, especially from the sparse 1950's with lower budgets than the more lavish, stylistic 1940's, pales to TOUCH OF EVIL, considered the last of its kind...

Mostly because there's nothing else quite like it, since Orson went out with a bang with the help of cinematography-giant Russell Metty, turning a long, purposefully convoluted night that, within Universal's gritty studio-made border town combined with actual shots in Venice, California, feels like an ominous underworld where, par for the iconic director's course, shifting shadows are liken to characters all their own...

Orson Welles in Orson Welles's TOUCH OF EVIL

And it's no surprise that, literally and symbolically, Welles cast the largest shadow, making for an anti-hero co-lead instead of the token bad guy: which is how Heston turned that rudimentary love to jealous-hate — cured years later after realizing what a timeless and unique classic he was part of...

Altered with body padding and face-plumpers to make Orson's then only somewhat portly build into the immense girth he'd become famous for later, his Quinlan... attempting to frame a Mexican local for murdering the powerful father of his live-in girlfriend... is a formidable presence of line-crossing villainy but with an equal amount of deliberately pathetic pathos: the viewer becomes more interested in what the bad cop can get away with than, like otherwise mainstream cop-crime flicks, how or when the good cop (Heston) will bust him...

Valentin de Vargas, Janet Leigh, Michael Sargent & Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL

Meanwhile Charlton's busy Spanish cop named Mike Vargas is forced to neglect his honeymoon with sophisticated, glamorous, gorgeous yet down-to-earth American wife Janet Leigh: herself dealing with villain's villain Akim Tamiroff, as grotesquely vile a gangster as Welles is a crooked lawman...

After being blackmailed by Akim and his wily nephews, she ironically gets stuck in a rural motel run by a crazy young man — foreshadowing her peak in Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO...

Poster perfect Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL

Unfortunately... although filled with a stellar cast from CITIZEN KANE vets Ray Collins and Joseph Cotten (quick cameo) to Victor Milan and Joanna Moore (the accused and his mistress) to madame Zsa Zsa Gabor... Dennis Weaver is no Anthony Perkins as the GUNSMOKE actor is so completely overboard and wacky... supposedly a mix of sexual frustration and lonesome lunacy... he's better suited for a keystone comedy, and a bad one...

Thankfully he's soon encroached by a gang of drug-addled beatniks, led by Mercedes McCambridge, hired by Tamiroff: whose own best scenes are shared with multi-collaborator Welles (from BLACK MAGIC to MR ARKADIN to THE TRIAL), who, at the end of his rope, seeks rock bottom honor amongst the lowest of thieves...

Poster bottom from Orson Welles's TOUCH OF EVIL

Then there's Welles's faithfully adoring sidekick/partner, fighting to distrust the dark truths unfolding about his clue-planting mentor (spouted from both Heston and his own sycophant Mort Mills): providing underrated and unappreciated Joseph Calleia the purest, most likeable role...

But only if you don't count medium Marlene Dietrich as Tanya (Quinlin's lover when he resembled Harry Lime), who... after Heston and Welles's spectacular cat and-mouse climax involving a mobile recording device (as intriguingly complicated to watch as it probably was to shoot)... utters the final line, summing up both Welles's fictional character and real life cinematic legacy: "He was some kind of man."

Orson Welles in Orson Welles's TOUCH OF EVIL
Orson Welles and Charlton Heston TOUCH OF EVIL
Akim Tamiroff and Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL
Joseph Calleia and Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL
Orson Welles and Charlton Heston TOUCH OF EVIL
JANET LEIGH in TOUCH OF EVIL
Dennis Weaver and Charlton Heston in TOUCH OF EVIL
Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL
Marlene Dietrich and Mort Mills in TOUCH OF EVIL
Valentin de Vargas and Janet Leigh in TOUCH OF EVIL
Joseph Cotten cameo (with Orson's voice) in TOUCH OF EVIL
Charlton Heston TOUCH OF EVIL
Mort Mills and Charlton Heston TOUCH OF EVIL in Speedway, Venice California
Charlton Heston TOUCH OF EVIL in Venice California
Marlene Dietrich in TOUCH OF EVIL
Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL with Akim Tamiroff
Charlton Heston and Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL with the accused Victor Milan
Charlton Heston and Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL with the accused Victor Milan
Janet Leigh at her sexiest in TOUCH OF EVIL
Joseph Calleia and Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL
Charlton Heston in TOUCH OF EVIL
Valentin de Vargas and Akim Tamiroff in TOUCH OF EVIL
Charlton Heston in TOUCH OF EVIL with Joi Lansing poster
Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL with Zsa Zsa Gabor
Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL with Ray Collins
 Marlene Dietrich in TOUCH OF EVIL
Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL
Playing on shadows for TOUCH OF EVIL
Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL with Charlton Heston
Mercedes McCambridge in TOUCH OF EVIL
Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL
Janet Leigh in TOUCH OF EVIL
Akim Tamiroff in TOUCH OF EVIL (one of the scenes Universal hated)
Charlton Heston in TOUCH OF EVIL finale
Rich dead man's daughter Joanna Moore in TOUCH OF EVIL
Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL as the bull hunted by...
Charlton Heston in TOUCH OF EVIL as one of the matadors
Joseph Cotten and Joseph Calleia in TOUCH OF EVIL
Lalo Rios as the acid-thrower in TOUCH OF EVIL with Lalo Rios
Lalo Rios as the acid-thrower in TOUCH OF EVIL
Joseph Calleia and Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL
Citizen Kane rivals Orson Welles & Ray Collins from TOUCH OF EVIL
Hop-Headed Ken Miller in TOUCH OF EVIL with Dennis Weaver
Janet Leigh in TOUCH OF EVIL

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