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The Past | The Previous

Touch of Evil.

on the weekend, i found a copy of orson welles' restored version of touch of evil.

i like this film. the fact that charlton heston is playing a mexican, a legitimate problem for some other people, has never bothered me. i think it adds something to the theme of the film: a mexican man, married to a white woman and, in the content of the film, more of a white man than the mexican gang he encounters. there's a sense that, no matter how much heston's character speaks about the mexican people, and doing what is right for them, and furthering their cause, that he, like his pristine blonde wife (janet leigh), is no longer really part of the mexican world. most certainly, he is not part of the world living on the border, where corruption finds and easy foothold, and orson welles, limping, emotionally scarred, and racist to his core, holds sway.

welles' hank quinlan is the centre of the film, and his relationship with his partner the tragedy. people might argue it--certainly you could, but for me, it's welles portrayal of a cop, who, outside his racism, is actually a likeable, oddly charming man. but that racism, that 'touch of evil' as it would be, is hooked deeply into quinlan, and it allows him to turn a blind eye to his moral compromises and even allows him to justify it. if not for heston's character appearing to confront welles, it's entirely possible that quinlan could have continued until his retirement.

in interviews, welles has said that quinlan is a character that is not meant to be sympathised with. if i remember correctly, he said he was totally reprehensible. but it's to welles credit that you never feel this as you watch touch of evil. there are moments, when quinlan is drunk, and talking about his dead wife, that the viewer can have sympathy for him. and, welles' own charm shines through the bulky form, infusing quinlan with a likable gruffness, and a complexity. as his partner says, "i'm an honest cop--who do you think made me that way?

hank quinlan."

essentially, welles' portrayal is not of a man who is steaming, ragging, full tilt evil. he doesn't froth at the mouth like, say, alan rickman whenever he plays evil. quinlan doesn't limp around and murder puppies, or sit there and talk about dominating the world, or even, keeping those mexican boys down. but his racism works throughout his character, just as, for heston's character, justice works through his, even if he is neglectful of his wife throughout the majority of the film. but therein lays the beauty of welles films: the moral ambiguity, the lack of a absolute right and wrong, of light and dark.

of course, the restored version of touch of evil has a fine rhythm and visual pattern too it. it's hard to fault that opening scene or, in my mind, the beautiful final scenes, where friends confront each other, followed by marlene deitrich appearence. her words, just about the final lines of the film, remain one of my all time favourite pieces of dialogue:

"he was some kind of man... what does it matter what you say about people?"