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Still from Joe Dante’s Gremlins (1984)

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Touch of Evil

Touch of Evil ★★★½

It's really unfortunate how Orson Welles' original vision for this film was compromised because there's enough intriguing elements here to suggest that he could have made something special. The restored cut patches things together to a satisfactory degree, but I feel like it's always blatantly obvious that something went on behind the scenes to affect the end product.

This is a dark, seedy noir that really gets to the core of what the genre is all about by crafting a world in which every corner seems to be infected by moral corruption and nefarious motivations. At its centre it explores how far a person will go in rationalising their wrongful actions in order to achieve some vague sense of justice and how such acts alter their very essence, all of which is deftly depicted through the study of Hank Quinlan. The police captain is perhaps the ideal showcase of what happens when a person is touched by evil, his unscrupulous behaviour leading him to a point where he's no better than the criminals he pursues. Welles puts his large frame and haughty expressions to excellent use, dominating most scenes as if to emphasis Quinlan as an unassailable force of nature.

That said, outside of the interesting central premise I'm not too keen on the manner in which this stroy is told. The first act, aside from the sublime opening one-take, feels very scatterbrained with all sorts of random details and backstories clumsily forced in. It might well have been an intentional effort to create confusion, but I think it comes off as sloppy. I wasn't a big fan of the constant cross-cutting to the subplot with Susan at the motel either as I think it weakened the narratives sense of momentum, even if Janet Leigh was engaging as usual. It must also be said that Charlton Heston as a Mexican is among the least convincing casting choices in cinematic history, the awful makeup having him look like The Tin Man doesn't help matters.

Fortunately, I can just about stomach many of these problems because Welles' direction is so outstanding. The superbly constructed one-takes, flowing camera movements and use of unorthodox angles still look impressive in the present day. If for no other reason, then definitely see this for a masterclass in creative directing.

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