Monday, 20 July 2009

Touch of evil (Orson Welles 1958)

Mike Vargas: This isn't the real Mexico. You know that. All border towns bring out the worst in a country.

In a memorable 3 minute shot we see how Mike Vargas’ (Charlton Heston) honeymoon in a Mexican border town is interrupted by an explosion that kills several people.
Vargas terminates his honeymoon and takes up the investigation, so does American policeman Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles). Soon it becomes evident that their methods and personalities are completely different.
Things become more complicated when Vargas’ American bride Susie (Janet Leigh) is kidnapped by Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff), the head of an underground drug family.

Quinlan’s presence dominates the movie: he fabricates evidence to frame his suspects. His intuition (his game leg) is usually right but he achieves his goals through abuse of power and other illegal means.

Vargas exposes Quinlan’s methods and there is no way out for the has-been cop. He wants to take refuge at Tanya’s (Marlene Dietrich) brothel and the sound of the pianola but his better days have passed:

Quinlan: Come on, read my future for me.
Tanya: You haven't got any.
Quinlan: What do you mean?
Tanya: Your future is all used up.

Tanya will pronounce the epitaph for the massive, vile, yet intuitive Quinlan:

Schwartz: Well, Hank was a great detective all right.
: And a lousy cop.
Schwartz: Is that all you have to say for him?
Tanya: He was some kind of a man... What does it matter what you say about people?
Schwartz: Goodbye Tanya.
Tanya: AdiĆ³s.

For some critics this film is also the epitaph for the classic noir era…