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Classic Review: Touch of Evil (1958)

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Another classic review thanks to another great classic film receiving a new release this week. Orson Welles' noir masterpiece Touch of Evil is now available on Blu-Ray disc, and for that moviegoers should be excited. The movie is one of the classics of the noir genre and is considered by many to be the last great film noir. Essentially, this movie did to old time crime dramas what Unforgiven did to westerns, sure they still existed, and studios still made them, but they would never again reach the heights of this.

The film begins on the Mexican-United States border as a car explodes just over the line. Mexican drug official Miguel Vargas (Charleton Heston) takes interest in the case as he was nearby with his fiancee Susie (Janet Leigh). The Americans also bring law enforcement led by Detective Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles). Quinlan gets his man by potentially planting evidence in the victim's husband's bathroom, which does not get past the skeptical Vargas. Afterwards, Quinlan tries to cover his tracks, keep his partner Menzies (Joseph Calleia) in the dark, and get revenge on Vargas to keep quiet. So begins as the poster said "the strangest vengeance ever planned"!

The movie as a whole is excellent. The acting performances are superb from the leading cast. Hank Quinlan may be one of Orson Welles' best performances in his history. Heston and Leigh also give their all and have believable chemistry, they all are truly deserving of his type of material.

Welles' direction is also to be lauded, as he moves the camera around and keeps tension building throughout. There are many inspired shots in this film, especially the opening tracking shot. Everyone was on their A-game with this picture and its all thanks to Welles.

As for cultural impact Touch of Evil still resonates in the world of film as the last great noir. The opening shot is considered one of the best long takes of all time. If Welles did not have Citizen Kane on his CV this could easily be the best film he ever directed. In a humorous side there also remains jokes about Heston's casting as a Mexican (including a notable scene from Tim Burton's 1994 biopic Ed Wood) and the movie giving further evidence why Janet Leigh should stay away from motels at any cost.

Overall, this is a great film that everyone should see, I recommend the "Restored Cut" which should be easy to find as it is the closest we'll ever get to Welles' true vision (Touch of Evil was originally cut by Universal Pictures). The new Blu-Ray apparently has all three cuts for you to enjoy.

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