Touch of Evil

I keep staring at this blank screen and not writing. I'm not sure if I'm just tired or if I'm at a loss for words. Probably a little bit of both. Today's movie is Touch of Evil, directed, written by, and featuring Orson Welles. It was one of the last film noirs ever made, and pretty much marked the end of Orson Welles' career for the studio system, as well. The beginning of the film told me that the studio badly cut the film, and released it with a bunch of weird inserted scenes and cuts. Welles was so angry that mere hours after being shown the new version, he wrote a 58 page letter to the studio pleading his case.

Unfortunately for Welles, they never listened, and the film was released as the second part of a double feature, despite it's famous cast. Only recently did anyone attempt to restore the film to comply with Welles' wishes. I'm glad I never had to see the weird version, and I got to watch the one that tries to stay true to how Welles wanted it. I really liked it - not so much for the confusing plot, but for the directing and the characters. Didn't I just say this last night about a different movie?


Maybe I put off writing this blog because I didn't feel like trying to tackle the plot. Ebert seems to spend so much of his essay writing about it, which I don't really want to do here. Even IMDB doesn't really go into what characters do what or who anyone is, simply writing, "Stark, perverse story of murder, kidnapping, and police corruption in Mexican border town." Hmmm. It's not just me, I promise. Ebert starts off his essay with a story about a director who didn't really pay much attention to the plot either, writing, "I'd seen the film four or five times before I noticed the story,'' the director Peter Bogdanovich once told his friend Orson. ``That speaks well for the story,'' Welles rumbled sarcastically, but Bogdanovich replied, ``No, no--I mean I was looking at the direction.'' (Great Moves II, 472 - 474).

With that in mind, I guess I have to explain why I liked this movie if I didn't really follow the plot half the time. The direction is seriously outstanding. Welles was amazing, and he had great vision. Everyone writes about the famous opening shot of this movie, and I can't not do the same thing. The shot is seriously great. It's a 3 1/2 minute long continuous shot, with no edits or cuts. One take, and the camera moves so freely, zooming in on characters but pulling back to show us the Mexican border town that the film takes place in. It's a tense, fascinating shot, and I can't even imagine how difficult it was to pull off. Long takes are seriously the worst - trying to get everyone to behave for a long time is really hard! I'm always so impressed whenever I see it.

I love the whole look of the film - the sharp angles, the shadows. I love how Welles frames the characters, even himself - wearing padding to make himself appear larger, and always dominating a corner of the frame. It feels like noir, because it has so many interesting stylistic elements. It's visually interesting, which often makes up for when the plot is meh. Stuff is so wonderfully seedy, as well, from the creepy hotel to the garbage-filled water where the end of the film takes place. The whole movie just does such a good job conveying how corrupt and awful everything is, it's very cool.

I loved how interesting all the characters were, as well. Sometimes they weren't really main characters, but they were given so much attention and depth that it felt like it at some points. The one that sticks out most in my mind is the creepy, obsessive, and slow hotel clerk. He is not really an important character - he has nothing to do with the plot. He's just....a challenged hotel clerk. Still, he's unforgettable. He freaks out over anything that could be sexual. He brings some sheets into a room and Susan asks him to help her make up the bed. He is clearly upset, assuming that this has something to do with sex, and refuses to help. He's kind of creepy, but also funny - like when he goes into the cabin where a "party" was happening. He goes in to help find Susan, but he can't seem to focus on the fact that she is missing, only that the cabin is smelly and messed up.

This is a great movie, and I hope my lack-luster writing hasn't turned you off of it. I know it's awkward to avoid the plot, but it's so messy that I didn't want to waste my energy trying to explain it when it's not even the best part of the movie. If you like Orson Welles (does anyone not?), it's a must-see, and the same goes for fans of noir. I think anyone would like this movie, though, because you can just tell that it's well-made and wonderful. Let me know if you check it out!

Links:
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Touch of Evil
Buy it on Amazon

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