Touch of Evil (1958)

The Reconstruction Cut.

There’s something perpetually “not right” about every minute of Touch of Evil (not the least of which is Charlton Heston portraying a Mexican) that works to the film’s advantage. Opening with one of the most beautiful and engaging long-takes in cinematic history, Touch of Evil takes place at the U.S.-Mexican border, beginning with a car bomb explosion and never once letting up.

Vargas (Charlton Heston) works as a drug enforcement official for the Mexican government, a straight shooter. He and his just-married wife Susan (Janet Leigh) find themselves caught up in this classic tale of crime, corruption, and immorality. Orson Welles’ Hank Quinlan is one of the ultimate characters of film noir. Worshipped by nearly everyone on the force Hank’s first appearance betrays the man’s grimy underbelly. Touch of Evil is a gorgeous film and a masterclass in lighting and cinematography, and Hank Quinlan is often lit harsher than anyone.

As director Welles captures this “off” nature brilliantly, opting far juxtaposing musical cues as well as a perpetual visual dinginess. Most characters look sweaty, greasy, flawed, blanketed by pitch-black darkness in almost every frame, a superb visual representation of the touch of evil. Lively Hispanic music stands out stark against the seedy and grimy events of the film, helping to heighten both drama and atmosphere, which Welles crafts in spades. Touch of Evil is certainly a film of its period, standing as one of the last great noirs of the “classic era,” featuring human corruption and perversion and evil more explicitly than many of its predecessors, to unsettling effect.



  1. It seems to me Orson Welles was going for dark humour with Touch of Evil, for 2 reasons.
    1, Nobody is fooled for a second on Heston being Mexican, not even Heston.
    2, The scene where Susan wakes up to see Grandi, killed by strangulation; that moment is so in your face and over-the-top, I couldn’t help but laugh.

    Excellent review!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like your observation: “Most characters look sweaty, greasy, flawed, blanketed by pitch-black darkness in almost every frame.” Sin City is Touch of Evil on acid. I wrote a short essay on the film called “The Nature of Evil.” If you would like to read it, here is the link:

    Liked by 1 person

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