Orson Welles’ 100th birthday arrives Wednesday, and the historic Crest Theater in Westwood is marking the occasion by screening the late auteur’s once-overlooked noir classic “Touch of Evil.”
The 1958 film stars the late Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Zsa Zsa Gabor in a tale of murder and kidnapping in a corrupt Mexican border town. The Los Angeles Times’s Kenneth Turan said the film “raises the usual brooding nightmare ambiance of film noir to a level few other pictures have attempted.” He called it “expressionistic in the extreme, filled with shadows, angles and cinematic flourishes.”
The Wisconsin-born Welles died nearly 30 years ago, but his more than 100 films as an actor, nearly 50 as a director and many more as a writer continue to make him a towering figure in the history of cinema.
Welles originally had been pegged only to play the role of police Capt. Hank Quinlan, who is investigating the mysterious bombing of a car that was crossing from Mexico into the U.S. But star Heston reportedly insisted that Welles take over as the film’s director. The picture ended up being a reunion of sorts for Welles, who had been working in Europe but in “Touch of Evil” worked with old confederates like Joseph Cotten and Marlene Dietrich, who plays a bordello owner.
Although filming went well by most accounts, Universal chose to reshoot and re-edit much of the film, and Welles objected, writing a lengthy memo that detailed his complaints, according to Heston’s autobiography. It took two decades after the film’s original 1958 release before an earlier version of “Touch of Evil” was discovered and released.
The single-screen Crest Theater, at 1262 Westwood Boulevard, opened 75 years ago and now shows films and offers a stage for live entertainment. Tickets for “Touch of Evil,” at $10, still were available Tuesday.