In TOUCH OF EVIL (1958), Mexico’s chief narcotics officer, Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston) is in a border town with his American wife. Soon he’s supposed to testify against a local drug lord, Grandi whose brother and family are tailing him and hoping to frighten his wife to back him off the case. When a car bomb kills a rich US developer, Vargas involves himself in the investigation. After Vargas catches the local legendary US cop, Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) planting evidence against a suspect, Quinlan joins forces with the Grandi family to challenge Vargas’ character.
The film opens with one of the most beautiful shots in movie history. It’s a three minute long tracking shot as we see a stick of dynamite being planted in a car and the car being driven around a crowded street, while we also see Vargas hanging out with his wife. This shot captures so much and gives you a feel as to what you’re in for. And it’s suspenseful as you know the bomb is gonna go off but you don’t know when. It’s framed and choreographed in a very compelling way.
I liked how energetic this whole movie is, it’s just lively and the music also adds to the liveliness. Orson Welles is phenomenal as this unpleasant detective, Quinlan. While the first half may seem like a police procedural, the second half is more about the rivalry between Vargas and Quinlan. The rivalry between these two characters is insanely well done. The film shows till what lengths one would go to protect their wrongdoings from getting exposed, and how having a good reputation often blinds the people from seeing what’s actually true.
Orson Welles’ has made the film with such finesse, every shot is worth remembering. He makes it look easy. I loved his use of low angles, tracking shots, and wide angle shots. The way he’s used symbolism is also just amazing. The plot is intricate and nuanced. I also liked the slightly nihilistic ending.
Overall, Touch of Evil is one of the greatest noirs ever made. It’s a very well made examination of the relationship between law and justice.