On the American side of the Mexican border, a car is blown up killing a man and his mistress. Mexican narcotics officer Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston, not Mexican but by no means an offensive portrayal) and American cop Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) uneasily work to solve the case, with simmering racial tension, narcotics and police corruption rife.
The film has a great upbeat jazz score by Henry Mancini heralding the move into the sixties- the aesthetic of the forties and fifties has almost disappeared so it’s not surprising that Touch of Evil is considered the last of the classic film noirs.
Janet Leigh feels very modern as Mike Vargas’ wife Susie, lying seductively in a slip pre-empting her introduction in Psycho. It’s a contrast to Quinlan’s friend Tanya (Marlene Dietrich), a nice cameo from Marlene Dietrich, who could be out of a classic forties noir.
Orson Welles is a tenacious bulldog throwing his weight around as his hatred for the Mexicans infiltrates his work as a police captain but he's more of a tragic villain in a Shakesperean vein rather than inhumanly evil.
Though it doesn’t have the degree of twisted morality that I enjoy in a film noir, the exploration of corruption and racism make the film more political, showing how film noir is a tricky genre/mood/aesthetic to pin down.
In the final review of this week, I’ll be looking at the legacy of noir: in particular, tech-noir.