Matisse van Rossum’s review published on Letterboxd:
A Century of Cinema Challenge: 1958
My respect and admiration for Orson Welles knows no limits. He was one of the truly greatest filmmakers ever and a master at his craft. It's really a shame that his career was such a difficult one, his struggles with Hollywood producers seemingly never ending. The version of Touch of Evil that was released to the public was, similarly to The Magnificent Ambersons, cut to hell and back and its only been in recent years that a print more closely resembling Welles's vision has been released.
Touch of Evil is another noir classic, a marvelous entry in one of my favorite genres of film. From that legendary opening shot, Welles provides a deliciously dark story, complete with murder, mystery, excitement, and of course plenty of twists and turns. It's a very busy film, with several overlapping plot lines, any of which could be the central one, leaving the viewer constantly guessing. When this is combined with rapid fire dialogue, much of which consists of people talking over one another, it can be a difficult film to follow, especially to an inattentive viewer. It does at times feel a tad muddled, especially during the rather slow middle section, but it tightens up wonderfully by the end with its dark but dazzling climax.
The film is a story of corruption and darkness, but the story is woven in such a way that it is not immediately clear who possesses the titular touch of evil. Even Charlton Heston's heroic Vargas is forced to debase himself in order to save the woman he loves. However, despite initial impressions, Vargas is not the true protagonist. The character with the most nuance and depth is Captain Hank Quinlan, played by an almost unrecognizable Orson Welles. Quinlan is monstrous and grotesque, but damaged. Though the touch of evil is upon him, it is clear that he is not inherently evil. However, he's undoubtedly the villain of the film, and Welles plays his role with relish. He always seems to enjoy playing villains, as evidenced by The Third Man, Touch of Evil, Transformers, and even Citizen Kane to an extent, and I believe it's where he's at his best.
The up-close-and-personal cinematography of the film even further enhances the grimy atmosphere of the story, distorting characters and environments, making even familiar settings feel alien and unforgiving. My favorite scene is the one in which a murder takes place in a seedy hotel room (don't worry, no spoilers for those who haven't seen it). The flashing of a neon light outside and extreme angles make this scene absolutely incredible.
I don't think Touch of Evil is Orson Welles's greatest film, but his technical expertise is better than ever and it's a fabulous example of pure noir goodness.