Touch of Evil smacks of brilliance but ultimately flounders in it. Taken scene by scene, there is much to be said for this filmization of Whit Masterson’s novel, Badge of Evil. Orson Welles’ script contains some hard-hitting dialog; his use of low key lighting is effective, and Russell Metty’s photography is fluid and impressive; and Henry Mancini’s music is poignant. But Touch of Evil proves it takes more than good scenes to make a good picture.
Welles portrays an American cop who has the keen reputation of always getting his man. Before you know it, he’s hot on the trail of those scoundrels who blew to smithereens the wealthy ‘owner’ of a small Mexican border town. Charlton Heston, a bigwig in the Mexican government, just happens to be around with his new American bride (Janet Leigh) and gets himself rather involved in the proceedings, feeling the dynamiting has something to do with a narcotics racket he’s investigating.
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Off his rocker since his wife was murdered years ago, Welles supposedly is deserving of a bit of sympathy. At least, there’s a hint of it in dialog, even though it isn’t seen in his characterization. Aside from this, he turns in a unique and absorbing performance. Heston keeps his plight the point of major importance, combining a dynamic quality with a touch of Latin personality. Leigh, sexy as all get-out, switches from charm to fright with facility in a capable portrayal. Dennis Weaver, as the night man, is fine though exaggerated.
Spicing up the production are a single closeup of Zsa Zsa Gabor as a non-stripped stripper, a word or two from Joseph Cotten who’s slipped in without screen credit, and a provocative few minutes with gypsy-looking Marlene Dietrich. Dietrich is rather sultry and fun to watch, even though it’s somewhat incongruous to see her walk into the Mexican darkness at the picture’s finish, turn to wave, then wail, ‘Adios.’
[In 1998 a ‘restored version’ of Welles’ ‘original’ was released, featuring minor changes to picture and soundtrack.]