"Touch of Evil" defended

From Forum With No Name:

ted fontenot: Peeping Tom was too thought out, too cerebral, and ultimately unaffecting. I didn't really care about anyone. Not the protagonist/antagonist, Shearer, Massey (remember her from Frenzy), or the alcoholic blind mother. It reminds of Touch of Evil in one way. The technique, however ingenious and adroit, overwhelms the substance. 

DH1: Sorry, I love Touch of Evil. There's a lot going on in there besides slick technique.

ted fontenot: I like it a whole lot.

"There's a lot going on in there besides slick technique."

Yes, there is. Nevertheless . . . . The technique is more than slick. It's the end-all/be-all, the only real reason to see the movie. Everything is subservient to it. It's like bodybuilding--so extreme it almost becomes caricature of the human. It's topiary art.

ChrisJ: Style over substance arguments revisited. Touch of Evil however has STYLE AND SUBSTANCE. Absolutely correct in saying during several sequences style is nearly as important as anything else going on in the screen--but that's okay if it is blended into the film and it doesn't completey overwhelm.

You can look at something like Sin City as an example where style completely dominates substance. It wears off and your left with whatever scraps make up the rest of the movie. Sometimes there's enough there, often there's not.

Touch of Evil is an exception-- so is North by Northwest and Psycho and Peeping Tom for that matter.

VERA: Touch of Evil has a great subject--the destruction of a good cop and flawed human being (he was right, but morally he was wrong). Everything pointed to his corruption and long descent, including the border town's garbage-strewn streets and choked canals.

And I've always argued that Charlton Heston was perfectly cast, as a straight man to all this perversity and malevolence; an unlikeable, charmless man who cares more about justice than he does his wife who is, nevertheless, right. You have to learn to see beyond Heston's cluelessness and Welles' brilliantly charismatic performance to realize that it's Heston who's the hero and Welles the villain (Welles stacked things that way, so that somehow the victory of justice is a joyless affair--a tragedy, even).

Maybe my only reservation with the film is what the gang does to Janet Leigh--c'mon, that was a gang rape; it's only because of the censors that they couldn't show what really happened (that, and all the manufactured hysteria involving weed--thank god Mercedes McCambridge managed to mention heroin).

Not all of Welles' effects are outlandish, or even obvious. That scene with Akim Tamiroff where he's offered a shot of whisky and he goes "I don't drink" is a beautifully understated little pas de deux where Tamiroff dances like a devil imp around the orotund Welles, needling him, Welles' right hand creeping up to the shotglass like a spider to its prey; when Welles repeats his statement "I don't dri--" he realizes that he just did; the camera cuts to a high-angle shot, with Tamiroff smirking and leaving Welles in his cubicle to order another shot (a double). Suddenly Welles looks like a fly in a web.

Then there's the scene where Welles confronts his superiors about charges that he planted the dynamite; I love the business with the little bird's nest where he picks out an egg; when Heston drops the bombshell that he knows the dynamite comes from Welles' ranch, Welles' hand convulses, crushing the egg; he's left with dripping goo on his fingers looking for a handkerchief, and--beautiful moment--it's Heston who hands him a handkerchief, hands him, in effect, the one chance to 'come clean.'

It's not all flash moves and shock cuts and grotesque imagery; some of it is superb theater, subtle characterization, and all of it is of a piece of Welles' sensibility: a visualization of entropy, of the coming apart of a man you have so many knotted feelings of repulsion and regret and pity about that you can't articulate them clearly; when Marlene Deitrich was asked to try, she just shrugged and said 'he was some kind of man.'

ChrisJ: And there's also Dennis Weaver showing Tony Perkins how to run a hotel if you know what I mean.....

VERA: Yeah. Read accounts that Hitchcock was looking over Welles' shoulder, so to speak, when he did Psycho.

ted fontenot: Touch of Evil is a fine, even brilliant, technically daring movie. But, too much is "stacked". Sure, there is a lot of nice little business. You can always count on Welles to be visually ingenious. But, the whole enterprise has a schematic air of being predetermined (not pre-destined). Everyone, except possibly Welles's character, is a stereotype (except those that are vacuities), some more amusingly freakish than others. This is no Elizabethan tragedy. I don't see it as the fall of a good man. He's fallen already. The movie is about his being found out. Too many people make too many extraneous comments on his character. I, too, think Heston has gotten more grief over his role in the movie than is warranted. He was the big bankable star and he essentially handed the movie to Welles, relegating himself to a supporting character, a mere plot device really. Same for Leigh. Too, too much is just too unbelievable. Welles was handed a film noir mule, and he dressed her up, making you believe he had the Kentucky Derby winner, but in the process he so overpacked that mule that it collapses under the weight of everything it's carrying--it barely staggers across the line. All the sweaty freneticism, the unaccountable agitation to and fro, the unexplained behavior, the change of motivation, the utter seriousness with which it takes itself--all of this finally distracts from the story, which was pretty empty anyway. It's Welles's version of Hawks's The Big Sleep without any of the wit of that movie. But, I like it. Really, I do. It's a fine prancer. But it ain't Secretariat.

VERA Never suggested Welles in this film was a good man; he was a good cop, but a lousy human being (I think the script had a different line, but roughly the same idea). Didn't think it was Elizabethan drama either, though I imagine Richard III would consider Welles' cop a distant spiritual cousin.

I do think the motives are well-accounted for--Welles needs his man, later he needs a cover-up; Heston's prosecutor is interested in justice; Leigh is interested in her husband; Tamiroff is interested in pinning Welles and with his help framing Heston. They're mostly grotesques, but hardly just stereotypes--think Dickens with a Mexican flavor; he was always able to give even the smallest walk-on a detail that brought the character to life.

Didn't think Touch took itself too seriously either--look at Tamiroff, or McCambridge, or Weaver; even Welles' lines (and the comments on his weight) seem as much a joke on him as on his character. And surely Heston was smart enough to realize he's the straight man to all of Welles' huffing and puffing (and as such, perfectly cast).

I'd say Touch takes itself seriously on the subtext level, in the way Welles stacks the deck emotionally and dramatically against Heston and for Welles' police officer. But above that level--the visual gags (the egg dripping from Welles' hand), the verbal gags ("Someone found a shoe; it had a foot in it. You're going to pay for that"), the performances (Weaver unable to say "bed" out loud)--it's a darkly funny movie.


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