Touch of Evil (1958)

Orson Welles’ return to Hollywood after ten years working in Europe is a sleazy border tale in which he takes centre stage as gargantuan detective Hank Quinlan.

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Film details

Alternative titles

  • Badge of Evil Alternative

Cast & Credits

Introduction

“A brilliant fusion of pulp art with continental sophistication; it has all the energetic cruddiness of a Sammy Fuller ‘B’ picture, and all the self-consciousness of a New Wave melodrama.”
James Naremore, The Magic World of Orson Welles, 1978

Charlton Heston (starring here as Mexican border cop Mike Vargas) was apparently instrumental in persuading B-movie producer Albert Zugsmith to hire Orson Welles – who hadn’t directed in Hollywood for a decade – to make Touch of Evil.

Beginning with one of the most celebrated tracking shots in cinema history, a bravura three-minute take in which a bomb is planted in a car that then explodes after crossing the US border, Welles created a baroque, highly stylised masterpiece from inauspiciously pulpy source material.

With its story of murder, marijuana and police corruption, Touch of Evil is considered among the last of the 1940s/50s cycle of crime thrillers known as film noir. Welles’ vivid turn as corpulent bent cop Quinlan provided one of the genre’s most memorable villains.

Iniquity south of the border also colours Welles’ prior film noir, The Lady from Shanghai (1947), starring his then-wife Rita Hayworth.

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