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Los Robles, a seedy town on the US – Mexico border, is woken from its sleazy slumber when a bomb explodes in the trunk of a visiting car, just as newlyweds Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston) and Susan (Janet Leigh) are passing. Vargas is a Mexican drug squad officer but this is not his beat. It’s Hank Quinlan’s (Orson Welles), a fat, unshaven, bleary-eyed and used up cop who walks with a cane and nurtures a grudge. And he’s never framed a crook who wasn’t guilty. Vargas is drawn into the investigation - and soon his young bride is in all sorts of trouble at the hands of suspect drug runners. The bomb investigation becomes less the focus as Quinlan, Vargas and Quinlan’s long-time sidekick and junior, Menzies (Joseph Calleia), twist and turn in the odorous breeze of corrupted ideals and frayed friendships.

Review by Louise Keller:
There are so many things to recommend Touch of Evil. The historic opening shot that lasts for over three minutes is legendary, when the camera follows a car in whose boot a bomb has been planted. And if it has been a while since you saw the original film – or you have not seen it before, it does not distract if you know very little or nothing about it.

In this tale of good versus evil, when morality and doing the right thing is pitted against corruption and greed, the cinematic way in which the characters are interwoven is riveting. It might be set in another time and another place, but there's nothing dated about the motivations of any of the characters, whose weaknesses and strengths are as pertinent today as they were then.

The central characters are so well defined – Orson Welles' pitiable, grotesque, debauched Hank Quinlan steals every scene, and is as formidable as his girth. He is as offensive physically as he is morally. Charlton Heston, complete with dark Mexican make-up is great as the idealistic drug enforcer, while Janet Leigh is alluring as his bride. Fascinating to watch is Marlene Dietrich, seductive and enigmatic as the gypsy, in a small but memorable role. When Quinlan asks her to read his fortune, her inevitable reply that his future has all been used up is one that burns into our psyche, in this complex story set on a border town, on the edge of reality. Watch out for Zsa Zsa Gabor's tiny cameo. Haunting, powerful and very entertaining, Touch of Evil is a masterpiece, where character and plot are pivotal to the film’s effect – and is a DVD for the collector’s library.

Published December 18, 2003

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(US, 1958)

CAST: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Joanna Cook Moore, Marlene Dietrich DIRECTOR: Orson Welles

SCRIPT: Orson Welles, Paul Monash (from badge of Evil by whit Masterson)

RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen; audio 2.0


DVD DISTRIBUTOR: November 19, 2003

DVD RELEASE: Universal

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