Thursday, February 24, 2011
Touch of Evil
Movies used to be designed, shot, and edited to be viewed on a movie screen. Today, movies seem to be made to be watched on decidedly smaller screens. Evidence of this is reflected in the faster cutting within scenes and the generally manic, disjointed nature of most Hollywood movies.
Have you ever gone to a movie with lots of action and fast cutting and stumbled out of the theater in a daze, thinking the movie made no sense? That’s because your eyes couldn’t adjust to each new shot before it was replaced by the next one. On a movie screen, your eye moves around the screen to discern the focus of each shot. On a TV screen, laptop monitor, or a miniature iPad/iPod screen you basically stare at one point in space and let a movie’s narrative shuffle on by without you having to scan around and get your grip on the action. In other words, the action comes to you – mainlined you could say – without you having to think much about it.
Orson Welles movie, it’s even more thrilling. Screened at the Capital Theater in Arlington (DVD projection, not a 35 mm print), Touch of Evil crackles with Welles' signature deep focus composition, wide angles, meaningfully cluttered shots (what the film students used to call mise-en-scène), and voices overlapping on a soundtrack often dubbed in post production.
considered noir as it came out in 1958 at the end of the era, it showcases the classic noir elements of vivid black and white cinematography, on-location photography, and cynical characters. In Touch of Evil we've got corrupt, racist border town cop Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) who has been dealing dirty all his life.
Touch of Evil chronicles Quinlan's downfall over the course of one day, as he attempts to bring down up-and-coming Mexican do-gooder cop Miguel (Mike to you) Vargas. Vargas is played by Charlton Heston with his signature Hest-rionics dialed down to about a four. Or maybe it just seems that way playing the straight man to Welles' Quinlan, a festering, bloated recovering alcoholic who seals his own fate when he falls off the wagon and implicates himself at the scene of a crime by leaving his cane behind.
Three Stooges flick.
Janet Leigh. Leigh plays Susan, Vargas' very blond wife. Vargas and Susan are newlyweds just trying leave for a honeymoon, but their reverie is interrupted by a double murder at the border crossing. While Vargas remains sidetracked investigating, Susan is kidnapped and brought out to the remote motel that employs Weaver’s clueless night man. Meanwhile, Vargas witnesses Quinlan frame a young Mexican man for the double murder and this sends him on a righteous crusade to bring Quinlan down.
Welles puts the camera on the hood of a car and lets Charlton Heston and Mort Mills (as an assistant DA) drive through a street no wider than an alley at high speeds instead of shooting a cheesy rear screen projection. A good noir doesn't just show you the dirt, it pushes your face in it. Touch of Evil is dusty and oily from tequila and hopped up on MaryJane and doesn't shy from seedy whore houses and garbage-filled canals.
great dialogue ("He was some kind of a man... What does it matter what you say about people?"). Then some actors who worked often with Welles, including Joseph Cotton, Akim Tamiroff, and Ray Collins.
Here's the famous opening crane shot:
Theater location: Capital Theater, Arlington, Sunday, February 20th, 3:15 matinee. Price $7.00. Viewed with Liz. Snacks--RJ's Raspberry Licorice Log.