Touch of Evil


1h 35m 1958
Touch of Evil

Brief Synopsis

A narcotics agent risks his wife's life to investigate a crooked cop.

Film Details

Also Known As
Badge of Evil
MPAA Rating
Genre
Crime
Thriller
Adaptation
Film Noir
Release Date
Feb 1958
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Venice, California, USA; Universal Studios, California, USA; Universal City, California, USA; Venice, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson (New York, 1956).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1, 1.85 : 1
Film Length
8,388ft

Synopsis

While passing through the seedy border town of Los Robles, newlyweds Mike and Susan Vargas witness a car bomb explosion in which Rudy Linnekar, a local construction magnate, and his female companion are killed. Suspecting that the bomb was planted on the Mexican side of the border and may be the work of the Grandi narcotics ring, Vargas, the Mexican head of the Pan-American Narcotics Commission, offers his assistance to the Los Robles officials investigating the case. The lead detective, the obese and lumbering Capt. Hank Quinlan, rudely rebuffs Vargas' offer and makes subtly racist remarks. However, Quinlan's partner, the loyal Sgt. Pete Menzies, and Adair, a district attorney, apologize for Quinlan's behavior and invite Vargas to observe their investigation because of his status as a highly placed Mexican government official. In the meantime, a group of young Mexican men working for "Uncle" Joe Grandi, a small-time crime boss with a bad toupee, bring Susan, an American, to Grandi's headquarters in a sleazy hotel. Grandi warns Susan of dire consequences if her husband continues his prosecution of Grandi's brother, an imprisoned drug dealer awaiting trial in Mexico, but Susan, unimpressed, insults Grandi by calling him a "lop-sided Little Caesar." While investigating the case on the Mexican side of the border, Quinlan visits the tawdry brothel run by Tana, a former lover, and the place fills him with nostalgic yearnings. Tana, who at first does not recognize him, looks upon Quinlan with pity and suggests that he "lay off the candy bars" which he has substituted for liquor since going on the wagon several years before. Upon learning of Susan's encounter with Grandi, Vargas decides that she will be safer stashed in a motel on the American side of town while he continues working on the Linnekar case. However, unknown to Vargas, the motel is owned by Grandi, managed by a disturbed night clerk, and in the middle of the desert. Quinlan soon tracks down a suspect, a Mexican shoe clerk who was having an affair with Linnekar's daughter, Marcia, and later married her in a secret ceremony. Sanchez claims he is innocent and appeals to Vargas for help, infuriating Quinlan, who demands that they stop speaking in Spanish. After a prolonged search, Quinlan declares that Menzies has found damning evidence of Sanchez's guilt concealed in a shoe box. Vargas, who had earlier seen that the box was empty, accuses Quinlan of planting dynamite in the box to frame Sanchez, but Quinlan claims that Vargas is only trying to protect his own kind and has a "natural prejudice" for Mexicans. Grandi approaches Quinlan to suggest that they work together to ruin Vargas and after Quinlan has downed several drinks at Grandi's prodding, they plot to destroy Vargas professionally and personally by framing Susan. Grandi's gang of young hoodlums, led by a sadistic woman clad in black leather, take over the motel and accost the terrified Susan, who is shot up with drugs and then transported to a room in Grandi's hotel. When Vargas meets with Police Chief Gould and District Attorney Adair to discuss his suspicions about Quinlan, the faithful Menzies doggedly tracks down his partner to inform him of the meeting and is devastated when he finds Quinlan drunk in a bar. Quinlan storms in on the meeting and, furious that Gould is not defending him, makes a show of throwing down his badge. Uncomfortable with the fact that Vargas is an outsider making accusations against a star detective, Gould and Adair placate Quinlan by telling Vargas to stay out of police business. Al Schwartz, a young assistant D.A., stands by Vargas and secretly gains him access to Quinlan's case files, which strongly suggest that Quinlan, tortured by the fact that he was unable to find enough evidence to convict the "half-breed" who strangled his wife, has been framing suspects for years. Unable to accept that his partner and best friend is crooked, Menzies attempts to defend Quinlan, blaming Vargas for Quinlan's binge after years of sobriety. Unable to reach Susan by phone, Vargas finally makes it to the motel to find the night clerk sitting in the dark and seemingly speechless with fear. To Vargas' horror, all that remains in Susan's room are the stench of marijuana smoke and the debris of a wild party. Meanwhile, Quinlan arrives at Grandi's hotel and enters the room where Susan lies naked and unconscious, the smell of marijuana clinging to the clothing strewn about the floor. After forcing Grandi at gunpoint to telephone Menzies to report that he has found Vargas' wife surrounded by evidence of a drug party, Quinlan, who wants to ensure that he will not be a victim of blackmail, strangles Grandi with one of Susan's stockings. Soon after, Vargas, who has launched a desperate search for his wife, learns that Susan has been jailed on suspicion of drug use, prostitution and the murder of Grandi. Knowing that Quinlan is behind the frame-up and feeling helpless to stop him, Vargas explodes with rage, but Menzies takes him aside and reveals that he found Quinlan's cane at the murder scene. Although he is devastated by the fall of his idol, Menzies agrees to help Vargas amass more incontrovertible evidence of Quinlan's criminal activities and consents to being wired in the hopes that Quinlan will confess to his trusted partner. Quinlan, still on a binge, has holed up at Tana's place where, in a drunken haze, he asks her to read his fortune. Tana, however, sadly declares that his future is "all used up" and advises him to go home. As he reels out the door, Quinlan is confronted by Menzies, who begins asking questions about the Grandi murder while, nearby, Vargas records the conversation. As they walk toward a bridge spanning a murky canal, Menzies accuses Quinlan of betraying his loyalty by setting him up as the stooge who always found the planted evidence. The argument is interrupted when Quinlan hears the sound of their voices on Vargas' tape and finally realizes that Menzies is wired. When Menzies tries to stop Quinlan from harming Vargas, who is clinging to the side of the bridge, Quinlan shoots him and then, in shock at what he has done, stumbles down to the canal to wash the blood from his hands. Vargas confronts Quinlan with the evidence he now has on tape, and Quinlan prepares to kill him so that he can pin the Menzies murder on him. However, Menzies, on the brink of death, manages to crawl to the edge of the bridge and shoot Quinlan. Schwartz arrives with Susan, who has been released from jail, and Vargas departs to take her home to Mexico City, knowing that he is leaving behind enough evidence to prove that Quinlan framed Susan, Sanchez and many others. Ironically, however, Sanchez has ended up confessing to the murder of Rudy Linnekar. Tana arrives at the edge of the canal and gazing with Schwartz at Quinlan's large frame floating in the black water, she sadly remarks that Quinlan was "some kind of man."

Photo Collections

Touch of Evil - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from Touch of Evil (1958), starring Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, and Janet Leigh. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Film Details

Also Known As
Badge of Evil
MPAA Rating
Genre
Crime
Thriller
Adaptation
Film Noir
Release Date
Feb 1958
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Venice, California, USA; Universal Studios, California, USA; Universal City, California, USA; Venice, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson (New York, 1956).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1, 1.85 : 1
Film Length
8,388ft

Articles

The Big Idea (11/23)


Touch of Evil was based on Whit Masterson's pulp novel Badge of Evil. The project sat on producer Albert Zugsmith's shelf for some time before it saw the light of day.

Through a misunderstanding, Charlton Heston, the star of Touch of Evil, thought Welles was going to direct the film. When he learned otherwise, he insisted that the studio offer Welles the job. Universal's head of post-production, Edward Nims, had worked happily with Welles in the '40s, and seconded the recommendation.

Despite Orson Welles' tarnished professional reputation, Universal eventually agreed to hire Welles for the film, but his fee was only for his acting. His writing and directing efforts would be at no charge.

Even though Charlton Heston was mostly responsible for putting Orson Welles in the director's chair, William Alland, then a Universal Studios executive, might have also had a hand in Welles' good fortune. A long-time associate of Welles', Alland plays the anonymous reporter who traces the elusive mystery of Rosebud in Citizen Kane.

One important change that Orson Welles made in adapting the novel Badge of Evil involved the main protagonist. An Anglo-American named Mitch Holt in the novel, the hero became Miguel "Mike" Vargas, a Mexican narcotics agent.

by Scott McGee and Frank Miller
The Big Idea (11/23)

The Big Idea (11/23)

Touch of Evil was based on Whit Masterson's pulp novel Badge of Evil. The project sat on producer Albert Zugsmith's shelf for some time before it saw the light of day. Through a misunderstanding, Charlton Heston, the star of Touch of Evil, thought Welles was going to direct the film. When he learned otherwise, he insisted that the studio offer Welles the job. Universal's head of post-production, Edward Nims, had worked happily with Welles in the '40s, and seconded the recommendation. Despite Orson Welles' tarnished professional reputation, Universal eventually agreed to hire Welles for the film, but his fee was only for his acting. His writing and directing efforts would be at no charge. Even though Charlton Heston was mostly responsible for putting Orson Welles in the director's chair, William Alland, then a Universal Studios executive, might have also had a hand in Welles' good fortune. A long-time associate of Welles', Alland plays the anonymous reporter who traces the elusive mystery of Rosebud in Citizen Kane. One important change that Orson Welles made in adapting the novel Badge of Evil involved the main protagonist. An Anglo-American named Mitch Holt in the novel, the hero became Miguel "Mike" Vargas, a Mexican narcotics agent. by Scott McGee and Frank Miller

Behind the Camera (11/23)


For the role of Vargas' wife, Welles wanted Janet Leigh. According to biographer Barbara Leaming (in Orson Welles, Viking Press), "Even before her agent had told her anything about Orson's offer, a puzzled Miss Leigh had received a telegram from the director to say how delighted he was that they would be working together. Correctly calculating that she would be as pleased by the idea of being directed by him as Charlton Heston was, Orson had figured that the telegram would get her at a lower price than if he had to negotiate with her agent first." At first all was well on the set of Touch of Evil. Knowing there were studio spies on the set, Welles planned his first day of shooting to start with two uncomplicated close-ups. He started work at 9 a.m. and had the first shot finished by 9:15. Then he got the second shot by 9:25. The studio spy was called off, so nobody noticed that the next shot wasn't completed until 7:40 p.m. Fortunately, that was a long take that covered 11 pages of script, so Welles ended his first day of shooting two days ahead of schedule.

Welles further evaded studio control by shooting much of the picture on location. He had originally asked to make the film in Tijuana, but the executives had feared that was too far from Hollywood for them to call the shots. Instead, he proposed shooting in Venice, California, for a few days. Once he got there, however, he settled in for most of the remaining shoot. By then, the executives were thrilled with each day's rushes, so they pretty much left him alone.

Orson Welles encouraged Dennis Weaver to improvise his role as the strange hotel manager and together they created a unique character that ran counter to Weaver's role on the popular television series Gunsmoke. Welles later described the part as a "Shakespearean loony." According to Weaver in Barbara Leaming's bio of Welles, "We went into his whole background - about his mother and how he was a mamma's boy. He had this terrible guilt about sex and yet he had a large sex drive. There were no words to indicate such a thing in the script at all - but it gave him an interesting behavior pattern when we put it all together. The main thing was his attraction to women and his fear of them at the same time. That was the thing that was basic to his character."

Even though Orson Welles already weighed nearly 300 pounds, he made himself appear even fatter by wearing padding and using makeup that turned him into a greasy, corpulent specimen of corruption. Maurice Seiderman, the makeup artist who turned Orson Welles into a convincing old man in Citizen Kane (1941), created bags under Welles' eyes, changed his hairline, and added a false nose.

Akim Tamiroff, in the role of sleazy Uncle Joe Grandi, was required to stick the butt of a lamb's tongue into his mouth for his grotesque death scene. Orson Welles felt this was necessary to achieve the proper effect he wanted - that of a criminal who had been strangled so savagely that his tongue was unnaturally distended from his mouth. But as it turned out, the lamb's tongue proved to be too disgusting to show onscreen, so Tamiroff's unenviable ordeal was for nothing.

After finishing a first edit of Touch of Evil, Orson Welles went to South America to start another project. Welles returned to the States to find his film completely re-cut by the studio, who were concerned about the film's commercial viability. Welles submitted a 58-page memo suggesting changes that fell in line with his own vision of the final piece, but no one responded to it.

The biggest and most damaging change was the executives' design to run the lengthy opening tracking shot under the film's credits. That also meant playing Henry Mancini's main title theme over the sequence. Originally the scene had been scored entirely with sound effects, with the theme only appearing as a selection playing on the car radio. Even in this cut version, Universal didn't know what to do with the film. They kept it out of distribution for months, then finally snuck it into theatres in 1958 as the bottom half of a double bill. They didn't even bother screening it for critics. Welles' hopes of a Hollywood comeback were dashed.

by Scott McGee, Frank Miller and Jeff Stafford

Behind the Camera (11/23)

For the role of Vargas' wife, Welles wanted Janet Leigh. According to biographer Barbara Leaming (in Orson Welles, Viking Press), "Even before her agent had told her anything about Orson's offer, a puzzled Miss Leigh had received a telegram from the director to say how delighted he was that they would be working together. Correctly calculating that she would be as pleased by the idea of being directed by him as Charlton Heston was, Orson had figured that the telegram would get her at a lower price than if he had to negotiate with her agent first." At first all was well on the set of Touch of Evil. Knowing there were studio spies on the set, Welles planned his first day of shooting to start with two uncomplicated close-ups. He started work at 9 a.m. and had the first shot finished by 9:15. Then he got the second shot by 9:25. The studio spy was called off, so nobody noticed that the next shot wasn't completed until 7:40 p.m. Fortunately, that was a long take that covered 11 pages of script, so Welles ended his first day of shooting two days ahead of schedule. Welles further evaded studio control by shooting much of the picture on location. He had originally asked to make the film in Tijuana, but the executives had feared that was too far from Hollywood for them to call the shots. Instead, he proposed shooting in Venice, California, for a few days. Once he got there, however, he settled in for most of the remaining shoot. By then, the executives were thrilled with each day's rushes, so they pretty much left him alone. Orson Welles encouraged Dennis Weaver to improvise his role as the strange hotel manager and together they created a unique character that ran counter to Weaver's role on the popular television series Gunsmoke. Welles later described the part as a "Shakespearean loony." According to Weaver in Barbara Leaming's bio of Welles, "We went into his whole background - about his mother and how he was a mamma's boy. He had this terrible guilt about sex and yet he had a large sex drive. There were no words to indicate such a thing in the script at all - but it gave him an interesting behavior pattern when we put it all together. The main thing was his attraction to women and his fear of them at the same time. That was the thing that was basic to his character." Even though Orson Welles already weighed nearly 300 pounds, he made himself appear even fatter by wearing padding and using makeup that turned him into a greasy, corpulent specimen of corruption. Maurice Seiderman, the makeup artist who turned Orson Welles into a convincing old man in Citizen Kane (1941), created bags under Welles' eyes, changed his hairline, and added a false nose. Akim Tamiroff, in the role of sleazy Uncle Joe Grandi, was required to stick the butt of a lamb's tongue into his mouth for his grotesque death scene. Orson Welles felt this was necessary to achieve the proper effect he wanted - that of a criminal who had been strangled so savagely that his tongue was unnaturally distended from his mouth. But as it turned out, the lamb's tongue proved to be too disgusting to show onscreen, so Tamiroff's unenviable ordeal was for nothing. After finishing a first edit of Touch of Evil, Orson Welles went to South America to start another project. Welles returned to the States to find his film completely re-cut by the studio, who were concerned about the film's commercial viability. Welles submitted a 58-page memo suggesting changes that fell in line with his own vision of the final piece, but no one responded to it. The biggest and most damaging change was the executives' design to run the lengthy opening tracking shot under the film's credits. That also meant playing Henry Mancini's main title theme over the sequence. Originally the scene had been scored entirely with sound effects, with the theme only appearing as a selection playing on the car radio. Even in this cut version, Universal didn't know what to do with the film. They kept it out of distribution for months, then finally snuck it into theatres in 1958 as the bottom half of a double bill. They didn't even bother screening it for critics. Welles' hopes of a Hollywood comeback were dashed. by Scott McGee, Frank Miller and Jeff Stafford

Touch of Evil


"Your future is all used up."
Marlene Dietrich to Orson Welles in Touch of Evil

When Universal-International wrested control of Touch of Evil away from Orson Welles in 1957, it may well have seemed that, like the character he played in the film, his future was all used up. Certainly that would have seemed likely when the studio snuck the film into U.S. theatres in 1958. But almost instantly the picture was embraced by European critics, starting it on a steady upward path that has led to its current reputation as one of Welles' and the American cinema's greatest film noirs.

Welles hadn't directed an American film in ten years when Universal signed him to a meaty supporting role in a thriller called Badge of Evil. He had spent much of the '50s playing film roles to bankroll international productions like Othello (1952) and Mr. Arkadin (1955), which were shot in bits and pieces over several years as money became available. Welles had just finished acting in another Universal film, Man in the Shadow (1957), for which the studio had let him re-write most of his scenes. They were pleased enough with his work to offer him another role, but nobody at the time thought to give him another shot at directing in Hollywood, where his career had crashed through a series of extravagant failures following his triumphant debut with Citizen Kane in 1941. That all changed when the studio approached Charlton Heston to play the male lead, an international narcotics officer who gets caught up in small-town corruption when he sets out to investigate a crooked sheriff (Welles). Through a misunderstanding, Heston thought Welles was going to direct the film. When he learned otherwise, he insisted that the studio offer Welles the job. Universal's head of post-production, Edward Nims, had worked happily with Welles in the '40s, and seconded the recommendation. So the studio offered him the absurdly low sum of $125,000 to direct, re-write and star in the film. At first Welles wavered, but then decided it was time to prove that he could work within the studio system.

At first all was well. Knowing there were studio spies on the set, Welles planned his first day of shooting to start with two uncomplicated close-ups. He started work at 9 a.m. and had the first shot finished by 9:15. Then he got the second shot by 9:25. The studio spy was called off, so nobody noticed that the next shot wasn't completed until 7:40 p.m. Fortunately, that was a long take that covered 11 pages of script, so Welles ended his first day of shooting two days ahead of schedule.

Welles further evaded studio control by shooting much of the picture on location. He had originally asked to make the film in Tijuana, but the executives had feared that was too far from Hollywood for them to call the shots. Instead, he proposed shooting in Venice, California, for a few days. Once he got there, however, he settled in for most of the remaining shoot. By then, the executives were thrilled with each day's rushes, so they pretty much left him alone.

Throughout filming, Welles tweaked the script to get each scene just right. Usually he started his re-writes as soon as the day's (or night's) shooting was done and finished his re-writing in time for the next day's work. Nobody could tell when he was sleeping.

For all his meticulous planning of camera angles and tracking shots, he was also open to improvisation from the actors. The role of the motel clerk, played by Gunsmoke co-star Dennis Weaver, was expanded during shooting as Weaver and Welles came up with new ideas for the character. Without telling the studio executives, he asked his friend Marlene Dietrich to play a small role on 24-hours' notice. All he could tell her about the character was that she was "dark." Dietrich assembled her own costume from bits and pieces she'd collected from her other films, particularly the gypsy adventure Golden Earrings (1947). When she showed up for one night of shooting, he kept adding to the part. By the time she went home the next morning, she had filmed a major supporting role as the town's Madame and Welles' former mistress, serving as a kind of Greek chorus to the action. And the executives only found out about it when she turned up in the rushes. Hers was the film's most recognizable cameo. Also featured in small roles were Joseph Cotten, in old-age makeup, as a police surgeon and Mercedes McCambridge, in male drag, as a Mexican gang leader.

The most famous sequence in Touch of Evil was the lengthy tracking shot that opens the film. The three-minute-plus shot opens with an unseen figure planting a bomb in a car, follows the car through the border town's streets, picks up Heston and wife Janet Leigh as they cross the border and ends as they kiss, and the bomb explodes off-screen. Welles spent an entire night getting the shot just right. When the customs officer questioning Heston and Leigh kept flubbing his lines, Welles told him to mouth the words. They could dub the right lines in later. They finally got the shot at the last possible moment -- the sky was just turning pink in the east.

Throughout filming Welles maintained a healthy relationship with the front office. They even talked about signing him to a five-picture deal. But during editing, everything fell apart. Using techniques almost 20 years ahead of his time, he cut between scenes taking place simultaneously, telling the story in bits and pieces. While he was out of town to work on another personal project, his never-finished version of Don Quixote, the executives looked at a rough cut of the film and decided to take over the editing. Welles was shut out of the editing room and even denied permission to shoot necessary re-takes. Initially, Heston and Leigh refused to do the additional shots with another director. Heston even paid for a day of shooting that had been cancelled when he didn't show up. Under the terms of their contracts, however, they had to do the scenes. When Welles finally saw the studio's cut, he was appalled. He sent off a 58-page memo suggesting ways to re-cut the film, but apparently it was lost in the mail. The film was released with a 93-minute running time, and though Welles was heartbroken, he had to admit that it was closer to his original vision than any of the Hollywood films he'd made since Citizen Kane.

The biggest and most damaging change was the executives' design to run the lengthy opening tracking shot under the film's credits. That also meant playing Henry Mancini's main title theme over the sequence. Originally the scene had been scored entirely with sound effects, with the theme only appearing as a selection playing on the car radio. Even in this cut version, Universal didn't know what to do with the film. They kept it out of distribution for months, then finally snuck it into theatres in 1958 as the bottom half of a double bill. They didn't even bother screening it for critics. Welles' hopes of a Hollywood comeback were dashed.

Although Touch of Evil was largely neglected in the U.S., the picture's European release was met with critical raves. It even won Best Picture at the Brussels Film Festival. That didn't change any minds at Universal, where the film was written off as a loss. But over the years, Touch of Evil continued to find its audience through television and film society screenings which eventually sparked an interest among several of the film's admirers to restore it. The process began in the early 70s when Robert Epstein of the UCLA Film and Television requested a print to show at UCLA for the studio. When the film was screened it ran 108 min. and he believed he found Welles' lost cut; this was reported in The Hollywood Reporter at the time. But this was only a preview cut with many shots that Welles did not direct. A real turning point came in 1992: producer Rick Schmidlin read an article in Film Quarterly by Jonathan Rosenbaum that used excerpts from a 1957 memo Orson Welles wrote to studio chief Edward Muhl offering editing suggestions for Touch of Evil. At this point, Schmidlin, who has since produced critically acclaimed film restorations of Greed, the special edition of Elvis - That's the Way It Is and London After Midnight for Turner Classic Movies got involved in the restoration. As producer Schmidlin brought in Oscar®-winning editor Walter Murch who had just won two Academy Awards for The English Patient and Welles scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum as consultent to help construct the current 111 minute version.

This new version premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, won a special award for Schmidlin and his team from the New York Film Critics Circle, The National Society of Film Critics, The Boston Society of Film Critics and The Los Angeles Film Critics Association for "Scholarship and Integrity. Plus, this new edit of Touch Of Evil was called "Best Film Of The Year" by Premiere Magazine and chosen by The National Society of Film Critics as one of the "100 Essential Films" of all time. The 1998 re-edit ended up grossing almost three times the film's original $800,000 budget.

Producer: Albert Zugsmith
Director & Screenplay: Orson Welles
Based on the Novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Art Direction: Robert Clatworthy, Alexander Golitzen
Music: Henry Mancini
Principal Cast: Charlton Heston (Ramon Miguel "Mike" Vargas), Janet Leigh (Susan Vargas), Orson Welles (Capt. Hank Quinlan), Joseph Calleia (Sgt. Pete Menzies), Akim Tamiroff (Uncle Joe Grandi), Joanna Moore (Marcia Linnekar), Ray Collins (District Attorney Adair), Dennis Weaver (Motel Night Manager), Marlene Dietrich (Tanya), Zsa Zsa Gabor (Night Club Owner), Joseph Cotten (Police Surgeon), Mercedes McCambridge (Leader of the Gang).
BW-111m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller

Touch of Evil

"Your future is all used up." Marlene Dietrich to Orson Welles in Touch of Evil When Universal-International wrested control of Touch of Evil away from Orson Welles in 1957, it may well have seemed that, like the character he played in the film, his future was all used up. Certainly that would have seemed likely when the studio snuck the film into U.S. theatres in 1958. But almost instantly the picture was embraced by European critics, starting it on a steady upward path that has led to its current reputation as one of Welles' and the American cinema's greatest film noirs. Welles hadn't directed an American film in ten years when Universal signed him to a meaty supporting role in a thriller called Badge of Evil. He had spent much of the '50s playing film roles to bankroll international productions like Othello (1952) and Mr. Arkadin (1955), which were shot in bits and pieces over several years as money became available. Welles had just finished acting in another Universal film, Man in the Shadow (1957), for which the studio had let him re-write most of his scenes. They were pleased enough with his work to offer him another role, but nobody at the time thought to give him another shot at directing in Hollywood, where his career had crashed through a series of extravagant failures following his triumphant debut with Citizen Kane in 1941. That all changed when the studio approached Charlton Heston to play the male lead, an international narcotics officer who gets caught up in small-town corruption when he sets out to investigate a crooked sheriff (Welles). Through a misunderstanding, Heston thought Welles was going to direct the film. When he learned otherwise, he insisted that the studio offer Welles the job. Universal's head of post-production, Edward Nims, had worked happily with Welles in the '40s, and seconded the recommendation. So the studio offered him the absurdly low sum of $125,000 to direct, re-write and star in the film. At first Welles wavered, but then decided it was time to prove that he could work within the studio system. At first all was well. Knowing there were studio spies on the set, Welles planned his first day of shooting to start with two uncomplicated close-ups. He started work at 9 a.m. and had the first shot finished by 9:15. Then he got the second shot by 9:25. The studio spy was called off, so nobody noticed that the next shot wasn't completed until 7:40 p.m. Fortunately, that was a long take that covered 11 pages of script, so Welles ended his first day of shooting two days ahead of schedule. Welles further evaded studio control by shooting much of the picture on location. He had originally asked to make the film in Tijuana, but the executives had feared that was too far from Hollywood for them to call the shots. Instead, he proposed shooting in Venice, California, for a few days. Once he got there, however, he settled in for most of the remaining shoot. By then, the executives were thrilled with each day's rushes, so they pretty much left him alone. Throughout filming, Welles tweaked the script to get each scene just right. Usually he started his re-writes as soon as the day's (or night's) shooting was done and finished his re-writing in time for the next day's work. Nobody could tell when he was sleeping. For all his meticulous planning of camera angles and tracking shots, he was also open to improvisation from the actors. The role of the motel clerk, played by Gunsmoke co-star Dennis Weaver, was expanded during shooting as Weaver and Welles came up with new ideas for the character. Without telling the studio executives, he asked his friend Marlene Dietrich to play a small role on 24-hours' notice. All he could tell her about the character was that she was "dark." Dietrich assembled her own costume from bits and pieces she'd collected from her other films, particularly the gypsy adventure Golden Earrings (1947). When she showed up for one night of shooting, he kept adding to the part. By the time she went home the next morning, she had filmed a major supporting role as the town's Madame and Welles' former mistress, serving as a kind of Greek chorus to the action. And the executives only found out about it when she turned up in the rushes. Hers was the film's most recognizable cameo. Also featured in small roles were Joseph Cotten, in old-age makeup, as a police surgeon and Mercedes McCambridge, in male drag, as a Mexican gang leader. The most famous sequence in Touch of Evil was the lengthy tracking shot that opens the film. The three-minute-plus shot opens with an unseen figure planting a bomb in a car, follows the car through the border town's streets, picks up Heston and wife Janet Leigh as they cross the border and ends as they kiss, and the bomb explodes off-screen. Welles spent an entire night getting the shot just right. When the customs officer questioning Heston and Leigh kept flubbing his lines, Welles told him to mouth the words. They could dub the right lines in later. They finally got the shot at the last possible moment -- the sky was just turning pink in the east. Throughout filming Welles maintained a healthy relationship with the front office. They even talked about signing him to a five-picture deal. But during editing, everything fell apart. Using techniques almost 20 years ahead of his time, he cut between scenes taking place simultaneously, telling the story in bits and pieces. While he was out of town to work on another personal project, his never-finished version of Don Quixote, the executives looked at a rough cut of the film and decided to take over the editing. Welles was shut out of the editing room and even denied permission to shoot necessary re-takes. Initially, Heston and Leigh refused to do the additional shots with another director. Heston even paid for a day of shooting that had been cancelled when he didn't show up. Under the terms of their contracts, however, they had to do the scenes. When Welles finally saw the studio's cut, he was appalled. He sent off a 58-page memo suggesting ways to re-cut the film, but apparently it was lost in the mail. The film was released with a 93-minute running time, and though Welles was heartbroken, he had to admit that it was closer to his original vision than any of the Hollywood films he'd made since Citizen Kane. The biggest and most damaging change was the executives' design to run the lengthy opening tracking shot under the film's credits. That also meant playing Henry Mancini's main title theme over the sequence. Originally the scene had been scored entirely with sound effects, with the theme only appearing as a selection playing on the car radio. Even in this cut version, Universal didn't know what to do with the film. They kept it out of distribution for months, then finally snuck it into theatres in 1958 as the bottom half of a double bill. They didn't even bother screening it for critics. Welles' hopes of a Hollywood comeback were dashed. Although Touch of Evil was largely neglected in the U.S., the picture's European release was met with critical raves. It even won Best Picture at the Brussels Film Festival. That didn't change any minds at Universal, where the film was written off as a loss. But over the years, Touch of Evil continued to find its audience through television and film society screenings which eventually sparked an interest among several of the film's admirers to restore it. The process began in the early 70s when Robert Epstein of the UCLA Film and Television requested a print to show at UCLA for the studio. When the film was screened it ran 108 min. and he believed he found Welles' lost cut; this was reported in The Hollywood Reporter at the time. But this was only a preview cut with many shots that Welles did not direct. A real turning point came in 1992: producer Rick Schmidlin read an article in Film Quarterly by Jonathan Rosenbaum that used excerpts from a 1957 memo Orson Welles wrote to studio chief Edward Muhl offering editing suggestions for Touch of Evil. At this point, Schmidlin, who has since produced critically acclaimed film restorations of Greed, the special edition of Elvis - That's the Way It Is and London After Midnight for Turner Classic Movies got involved in the restoration. As producer Schmidlin brought in Oscar®-winning editor Walter Murch who had just won two Academy Awards for The English Patient and Welles scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum as consultent to help construct the current 111 minute version. This new version premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, won a special award for Schmidlin and his team from the New York Film Critics Circle, The National Society of Film Critics, The Boston Society of Film Critics and The Los Angeles Film Critics Association for "Scholarship and Integrity. Plus, this new edit of Touch Of Evil was called "Best Film Of The Year" by Premiere Magazine and chosen by The National Society of Film Critics as one of the "100 Essential Films" of all time. The 1998 re-edit ended up grossing almost three times the film's original $800,000 budget. Producer: Albert Zugsmith Director & Screenplay: Orson Welles Based on the Novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson Cinematography: Russell Metty Art Direction: Robert Clatworthy, Alexander Golitzen Music: Henry Mancini Principal Cast: Charlton Heston (Ramon Miguel "Mike" Vargas), Janet Leigh (Susan Vargas), Orson Welles (Capt. Hank Quinlan), Joseph Calleia (Sgt. Pete Menzies), Akim Tamiroff (Uncle Joe Grandi), Joanna Moore (Marcia Linnekar), Ray Collins (District Attorney Adair), Dennis Weaver (Motel Night Manager), Marlene Dietrich (Tanya), Zsa Zsa Gabor (Night Club Owner), Joseph Cotten (Police Surgeon), Mercedes McCambridge (Leader of the Gang). BW-111m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. by Frank Miller

Mercedes McCambridge (1916-2004)


Veteran character actress Mercedes McCambridge, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar® for All the King's Men, and later provided the scary voice of a demon-possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist, died from natural causes on March 2 in a rest home in San Diego. She was 87.

She was born Charlotte Mercedes McCambridge on March 16, 1916, in Joliet, Illinois. After graduation from Mundelein College in Chicago, she acted in local radio, doing everything from children's programs to soap operas. By the early '40s, she relocated to New York, where her powerful voice kept her busy as one of the top radio actresses of her day, including a stint with Orson Wells' radio dramas.

In the late '40s she appeared successfully in several Broadway productions, and this led a call from Hollywood. In her film debut, she was cast as Broderick Crawford's scheming mistress in All the King's Men (1949) and won an Oscar® for her fine performance.

Despite her strong start, McCambridge's film roles would be very sporadic over the years. Her strengths were her husky voice, square build, and forthright personae, not exactly qualities for an ingenue. Instead, McCambridge took interesting parts in some quirky movies: playing a self-righteous church leader opposite Joan Crawford in one of the cinema's great cult Westerns, Nicholas Ray's kinky Johnny Guitar (1954); a key role as Rock Hudson's sister in George Stevens' epic Giant (1956, a second Oscar® nomination), and as a gang leader in Orson Wells' magnificent noir thriller Touch of Evil (1958).

By the '60s, McCambridge's career was hampered by bouts of alcoholism, and apart for her voice work as the demon in William Friedkin's The Exorcist(1973, where the director cruelly omitted her from the credits before the Screen Actors Guild intervened and demanded that she receive proper recognition), the parts she found toward the end of her career were hardly highpoints. Some fairly forgettable films: Thieves (1977), The Concorde - Airport '79 (1979) and guest roles in some routine television shows such as Charlie's Angels and Cagney & Lacey were all she could find before quietly retiring from the screen.

It should be noted that McCambridge finished her career on a high note, when in the early '90s, Neil Simon asked her to play the role of the grandmother in Lost in Yonkers on Broadway. Her return to the New York stage proved to be a great success, and McCambridge would perform the play for a phenomenal 560 performances. They were no surviving family members at the time of her death.

by Michael T. Toole

Mercedes McCambridge (1916-2004)

Veteran character actress Mercedes McCambridge, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar® for All the King's Men, and later provided the scary voice of a demon-possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist, died from natural causes on March 2 in a rest home in San Diego. She was 87. She was born Charlotte Mercedes McCambridge on March 16, 1916, in Joliet, Illinois. After graduation from Mundelein College in Chicago, she acted in local radio, doing everything from children's programs to soap operas. By the early '40s, she relocated to New York, where her powerful voice kept her busy as one of the top radio actresses of her day, including a stint with Orson Wells' radio dramas. In the late '40s she appeared successfully in several Broadway productions, and this led a call from Hollywood. In her film debut, she was cast as Broderick Crawford's scheming mistress in All the King's Men (1949) and won an Oscar® for her fine performance. Despite her strong start, McCambridge's film roles would be very sporadic over the years. Her strengths were her husky voice, square build, and forthright personae, not exactly qualities for an ingenue. Instead, McCambridge took interesting parts in some quirky movies: playing a self-righteous church leader opposite Joan Crawford in one of the cinema's great cult Westerns, Nicholas Ray's kinky Johnny Guitar (1954); a key role as Rock Hudson's sister in George Stevens' epic Giant (1956, a second Oscar® nomination), and as a gang leader in Orson Wells' magnificent noir thriller Touch of Evil (1958). By the '60s, McCambridge's career was hampered by bouts of alcoholism, and apart for her voice work as the demon in William Friedkin's The Exorcist(1973, where the director cruelly omitted her from the credits before the Screen Actors Guild intervened and demanded that she receive proper recognition), the parts she found toward the end of her career were hardly highpoints. Some fairly forgettable films: Thieves (1977), The Concorde - Airport '79 (1979) and guest roles in some routine television shows such as Charlie's Angels and Cagney & Lacey were all she could find before quietly retiring from the screen. It should be noted that McCambridge finished her career on a high note, when in the early '90s, Neil Simon asked her to play the role of the grandmother in Lost in Yonkers on Broadway. Her return to the New York stage proved to be a great success, and McCambridge would perform the play for a phenomenal 560 performances. They were no surviving family members at the time of her death. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

This could be very bad for us.
- Vargas
For us?
- Susan
For Mexico, I mean.
- Vargas
Come on, read my future for me.
- Quinlan
You haven't got any.
- Tanya
What do you mean?
- Quinlan
Your future is all used up.
- Tanya
This isn't the real Mexico. You know that. All border towns bring out the worst in a country. I can just imagine your mother's face if she could see our honeymoon hotel.
- Vargas
Captain, you won't have any trouble with me.
- Vargas
You bet your sweet life I won't.
- Quinlan
How could you arrest me here? This is my country.
- Vargas
This is where you're gonna die.
- Quinlan

Trivia

Welles shot predominantly at night in order to fend off meddlesome studio suits.

'Hitchcock, Alfred' reportedly reworked 'Weaver, Dennis' 's quirky motel clerk character in this one for Psycho (1960).

The nighttime filming of the long, single tracking shot opening sequence had many retakes. It took so long that the sequence used was the last chance that night; the first light of the breaking dawn is visible in the background.

When Orson Welles discovered that his film was recut, he wrote a letter to the production house with specifics on how he would have wanted the film to be released. This memo, thought to be lost, was found to be in the possession of star Charlton Heston and was the basis for the re-edited 1998 re-release.

Janet Leigh broke her left arm before filming commenced, but appeared nonetheless.

Notes

The working title of this film was Badge of Evil. According to an April 1956 news item in Daily Variety, Universal purchased Whit Masterson's novel in 1956, at which time it was to be produced by Albert Zugsmith. Descriptions differ as to how Orson Welles, who had not directed a film in the United States since the 1948 Republic picture Macbeth, became involved sometime later in the Zugsmith production.
       Most modern sources credit John Russell as the camera operator who assisted director of photography Russell Metty, but only Phil Lathrop is credited as the operator in contemporary sources. Edward Curtiss, who is credited on Hollywood Reporter production charts as the editor, was fired by Welles when they did not agree on the cutting of the film, but Welles did work well with the next editor assigned to the picture, Virgil M. Vogel.
       Among the significant ways in which Welles departed from the novel and the Paul Monash screenplay were to change the character played by Charlton Heston from a white district attorney to a Mexican narcotics agent; to change the nationality of Janet Leigh's character from Mexican to American; and to set the film in a Mexican-American border town rather than in a Southern California town. Welles also heightened racial and sexual tensions in his screenplay.
       The famous opening sequence, in which a camera follows the bomb placed in "Rudy Linnekar's" car and introduces "Mike Vargas" and his wife, has become one of the most frequently cited examples of Welles's talent for unusual camera work. Another well-known long take in the film is the interrogation of "Sanchez" in his apartment, which, according to studio production notes in the film's production file at the AMPAS Library, Welles filmed on the first day of shooting to prove to the studio his ability to make the film quickly and efficiently.
       Welles shot the film in Venice, CA, where, according to the production notes, most of the filming took place at night. The picture was completed in early April 1957, and in a June 10, 1977 New York Times article, Heston is quoted as saying that the film "had an $825,000 budget and [a schedule of] 38 shooting days...and Orson brought it in for $900,000 in 39 days." Although a March 1, 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item includes Irene Snyder in the cast, her appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. According to a March 21, 1957 Hollywood Reporter item, Marie McDonald was considered to perform a "guest star stint." Some modern sources also include John Dierkes and Billy House in the cast.
       The studio did not release Touch of Evil until February 1958 and did not advertize it extensively. The film was a box-office failure in the United States, where criticism varied, with some writers praising Welles's innovative style, while others disliked the story and "artsy" direction. The picture was better received in Europe, however, and Welles accepted the award for best international film at the World's Fair in Brussels in 1958. Despite the critical success of the film in Europe, Welles never again directed a picture in the United States. [Although Welles did work on some independent projects in the U.S., he was never hired by a studio to direct in America after 1957, nor did he complete any independent films there.]
       According to a September 4, 1960 New York Times article, Marlene Dietrich considered the role of "Tana" one of her favorites, and claimed that she did her "best dramatic acting" in the last scene, in which she declares, "What does it matter what you say about people?" In the New York Times article, Dietrich also stated that her scenes were shot all in one night. Most modern sources note that Welles wrote Dietrich's part after filming had already begun, calling her the night before he wished to film her scenes to offer her the part. Although modern sources refer to the character played by Dietrich as "Tanya," her name in the film is "Tana."
       Much has been written about the production since it was first released. Modern sources offer the following information about the production: Zugsmith assigned Paul Monash to write a screenplay based on the book, although the project was shelved after Monash completed his screenplay. Some writers state that Welles became friends with Zugsmith during production of Man in the Shadow in which Welles appeared as an actor, and after that film wrapped, Welles offered to direct the "worst" script Zugsmith had, which was Badge of Evil.
       In an interview printed in a modern source, Welles said that after Universal sent Welles the script, the studio contacted Charlton Heston and asked him to read the script, noting that Welles was also working on the project. Heston misunderstood their comment, however, and thinking that Welles was the film's director, agreed to star in it. To please Heston, the studio then asked Welles to direct the film, and he agreed on the condition that he could rewrite the screenplay. The studio accepted on the condition that Welles would be compensated only for his acting duties. According to Welles, he never read Masterson's novel, and he rewrote the entire original screenplay, keeping only "the basic situation about a detective with a good record who plants evidence because he knows somebody is guilty...and the fellow turns out really to be guilty."
       Welles originally wanted to shoot the picture on location in Tijuana, but was unable to do so, and thus the film was shot in the Venice, CA. Some sources state that Universal ordered Welles to shoot closer to the studio so that his shooting schedule could be closely monitored, while other sources state that Mexican government censors, concerned over the depiction of drug use and violence, refused Welles permission to film in Mexico.
       According to various modern sources, while scouting the location, Welles fell into a canal and suffered painful injuries that required the use of a sling and a cane while he was off camera. Just prior to filming, Leigh was also injured and the cast on her broken left arm had to be hidden during shooting. During more revealing scenes, such as those set in the motel, Leigh's cast was sawn off and her arm re-splinted after filming. Although, according to a modern interview, Welles originally wanted Lloyd Bridges to play "Pete Menzies," he was "more than happy with Calleia" and considered himself "very lucky with that cast."
       Welles prevailed on several friends-Joseph Cotten, Dietrich, Mercedes McCambridge and Keenan Wynn-to act in the picture for union scale wages, although when the studio decided to include Dietrich in the onscreen billing, they were required to pay her more money. Maurice Seiderman, who was Welles's makeup man on Citizen Kane, is often credited with helping transform Welles into "Quinlan," for which he was padded with an extra sixty pounds.
       The post-production phase of the project was complicated. In Heston's journals, summarized in a modern source, Heston wrote that after viewing the rough cut of the film in February 1957, the studio requested another day of shooting to clarify the plot. Heston, reluctant to appear in any sequences not shot by Welles, caused the production to be held up for a day, but then agreed to reimburse the studio for the delay. Harry Keller was then brought in to direct the additional sequences. In the interview, Welles stated that two scenes between Vargas and "Susan" in the hotel were added, as well as a scene between Vargas and the district attorney in the hotel. Welles also noted that a scene in which "Menzies" tells Susan how "Quinlan" saved his life years earlier by taking a bullet for him would have explained Quinlan's limp and Quinlan saying "That's the second bullet stopped for you partner."
       Other modern sources note that after several months of post-production work, Vogel was replaced by Aaron Stell, who was later assisted by studio executive Ernest Nims. Keller worked with cameraman Cliff Stein and writer Franklin Coen for the added scenes. Another change imposed by the studio was the printing of the credits over the opening sequence. Welles had intended for the credits to appear at the film's end, so that the audience's attention would not be diverted from the long and narratively important tracking shot at the beginning.
       Daily Variety news items from June and August 1975 noted that a longer version of the film was discovered in the Universal vaults and subsequently preserved by the American Film Institute. That version, which contains approximately fifteen minutes of additional footage, was at first thought to correspond closely to the original cut made by Welles before the studio re-edited the film, according to the June 1975 Daily Variety news item. However, an August 1975 Daily Variety news item states that the longer version was not the director's original cut, and that it contained additional scenes filmed by director Harry Keller.
       Over the years, the picture's stature among critics and audiences has grown, and it has become one of Welles's most analyzed and highly praised films. Often discussed are Welles's innovative use of sound, lighting and the camera, as well as his depiction of racism and sexuality. Many modern critics assert that the the motel scenes in Touch of Evil influenced Alfred Hitchcock, whose 1960 film Psycho starred Leigh and featured work by cameraman John Russell and art director Robert Clatworthy. A restored version of Touch of Evil, with editorial changes based on an editorial memo written by Welles to Universal in 1957, was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1998.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter February 1958

Re-released in United States September 11, 1998

Limited re-release in United States October 2, 1998

Released in United States 1973

Released in United States September 1998

Released in United States October 1998

Released in United States 1999

Released in United States July 2000

Shown at Montreal International Festival of New Cinema and New Media October 15-24, 1998.

Shown at Rotterdam International Film Festival (main program) January 27 - February 7, 1999.

Shown at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival July 5-15, 2000.

The opening shot of the film is considered one of the greatest sequences in motion picture history.

Selected in 1993 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

Film was Awarded the International Prize at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair.

Released in United States Winter February 1958

Re-released in United States September 11, 1998 (director's cut; New York City and Los Angeles)

Limited re-release in United States October 2, 1998 (director's cut)

Released in United States 1973 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Great American Films) November 15 ¿ December 16, 1973.)

Released in United States September 1998 (Shown at Telluride Film Festival September 3-7, 1998.)

Released in United States October 1998 (Shown at Montreal International Festival of New Cinema and New Media October 15-24, 1998.)

Released in United States 1999 (Shown at Rotterdam International Film Festival (main program) January 27 - February 7, 1999.)

Released in United States July 2000 (Shown at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival July 5-15, 2000.)