Touch of Evil

Touch of Evil ★★★★½

It's hard to say that there are any narrative ideas at play within Touch of Evil, but it doesn't seem to matter; Welles' dark, seamy carnival-like depiction of corruption is so aesthetically grimy that it gets under your nails without even asking you to dig for substance. Its best scenes concern a subplot involving a drug mob's stalking of Susan (which wouldn't be the last time Janet Leigh would spend an uncomfortable evening a roadside motel). Leigh's fiery-but-naive sense of entitled invulnerability is brazenly engaging, and Welles ramps up fantastic tension in every one of her scenes, which get better and better throughout. It's as if Welles is exorcising a grudge against a precocious woman — or, possibly, her careless husband — but there's such a visceral thrill of danger in Leigh's segments one might assume this woman-in-peril movie is the one Welles felt compelled to make, while treating rest of it like a tinkerer's workshop.

Even given all of my issues with Touch of Evil's content, it's an energizing movie to behold. Its best parts are as good as filmmaking gets, and its weaker scenes at least showcase Henry Mancini's vibrant music and Russell Metty's perfect photography. Regardless of the story, there are virtuoso accomplishments around every shadowy corner, and given how far ahead of the times Welles was operating, it's a shame that he wasn't able to capitalize artistically on the relative freedom of the 1970s.

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