One of the things I'm looking forward to this month is finally catching up on a bunch of flicks I've stockpiled over the years, meaning to get to but never finding the time. So up front, I should admit that this means I'm going to be sprinkling in a handful of “suspense thriller” types with the standard slasher/monster/ghost flicks. On top of that, I wanted to start off the month with a bang, so when I stumbled across Orson Welles' Touch of Evil in my movie drawer last night at about 11pm, I knew I found my winner.
I didn't know anything about the plot, but it had the word “evil” in the title (yay!), and I vaguely knew it was a famous film noir classic, so I figured it would fit the genre criteria that octo laid out last week.
One really cool thing about this movie is that it's one of those classics that immediately punches you in the stomach with it's awesomeness, and you realize, “Oh, so this is why people get so jazzed about Welles. Cool.” I'm talking here about a 3-4 minute (seemed that long anyway) opening shot. Yes, “shot,” not “scene.” You start off in a Tijuana alley where some lowlife is placing a bomb in the trunk of a car, and then the camera pans out and up and tracks the car as it meanders through town and across the border. All one huge tracking shot. It's an excruciating 3 minutes of “pop goes the weasel” anticipation. And along the way, the camera does one of those cool switches where it starts following a couple who are walking through the street next to the car. The couple turns out to be Charlton Heston (in brownface playing a Mexican cop!) and Janet Leigh, who is fucking smoking (and could pop a balloon with her uber-pointy bra). So eventually of course the car go boom and the movie kicks into gear.
It becomes a complex crime thriller about racism, the Mexican mafia, cross border tension, and police corruption, and there's a lot more tense moments, particularly involving Leigh, who plays Heston's headstrong and sassy American wife who keeps putting herself in situations where you think: “Wtf are you doing?” One whole sequence in the second half of the movie involves her being stranded out at some deserted motel, with a really creepy gang of druggies (they have heroin...and reefer!) obviously planning to do something nasty to her.
The best part of the movie ends up being Welles playing a corrupt American cop butting heads with Heston's altruistic Mexican cop. Welles is one of those names who you hear a lot about, but probably, like me, haven't seen in action too often. (I think Citizen Kane and his cameo in The Third Man are all I've seen). So it's cool to see a legend live up to the billing. He “owns” the film. He's a fat, candy bar chewing, sarcastic, racist, arrogant prick. Think Brando level scene-stealing good. You can't take your eyes off him.
A final note is that during the closing credits I realized that the exotic Mexican gypsy was played by Marlene Dietrich. I knew she looked familiar... Anyway, I think that's my first Marlene Dietrich movie, so bonus.
Final verdict. Not scary in any standard horrorthon sense, but pretty suspenseful and atmospheric. Totally worth seeing.