By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington
The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). All movies below are from the schedule of TCM, which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).
Pick of the Week
“Touch of Evil” (1958, Orson Welles). Wednesday, Oct. 29. 10 p.m. (7 p.m.).
“A little old lady walked down Main Street last night and picked up a shoe. That shoe had a foot in it. I’m going to make you pay for that, boy.”
Detective Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles)
In two Hellish border towns, one in California, the other in Mexico, a grotesque and loony gallery of rogues, cops, narcs, city bosses, gangsters, juvenile delinquents, psycho motel clerks and ladies of the evening are thrown together, when a wealthy banker, Rudy Linnekar, is blown to smithereens at the border. We watch a bomb being planted in his car (from above, in one of cinema’s greatest long-take, moving-camera shots) by a shadowy, not-quite-seen killer.
On the killer’s trail, in what seems only minutes after that explosive opening, is the local star police detective, Hank Quinlan (writer-director-star Orson Welles), a mountainously fat, savagely cynical but brilliant cop, who specializes in cracking the most mysterious crimes and nailing the wiliest killers. In this case, Quinlan fingers a good-looking Mexican shoe clerk (Victor Millan) who was sleeping with Linnekar’s daughter (Joanna Moore) and who has a shoebox full of dynamite in their motel room.
Only one problem: An upright, unshakably honest narcotics-cop named Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston, at his most righteous) – who’s visiting the town with his gorgeous blonde wife Susie (Janet Leigh, at her liveliest) – knows that the dynamite was planted. And if Quinlan planted the evidence on this murder, maybe he, and his hero-worshipping partner Menzies (Joseph Calleia) have been faking things for years.
What follows is a war of nerves (and of guts and morality) between two great cops, one of whom may be a murderer.
Around them is the rest of one of film noir’s greatest casts: Akim Tamiroff as Uncle Joe Grandi, the local sawed-off Little Caesar, Valentin de Vargas as Uncle Joe’s lady-killing leather-jacketed nephew, Dennis Weaver as the nervous “night man” at the local motel, Mercedes McCambridge as the most blood-freezing lesbian biker ever, and a couple of salty old pros from “Citizen Kane” (Joseph Cotten and Ray Collins). And, in one of her (and our) favorite performances, Marlene Dietrich as Tana, the sultry, sardonic madame who plays the pianola at her high-style whorehouse and makes great chili. She tells her old flame Quinlan, “You’re a mess, honey.”
The Universal studio execs of 1958 made a mess of “Touch of Evil,” in its original release, ordering reshooting and recuts. But it’s long since assumed classic status and been put back in the shape it’s believed writer-director-star Welles wanted.
We actually owe the existence of “Touch of Evil” to Charlton Heston. He was hired to play the hero, Vargas, in an initially unpromising adaptation of Whit Masterson’s paperback thriller “Badge of Evil,” after Welles was already cast as Quinlan. Heston then insisted that Welles direct it as well.
Welles was still in his prime when he made “Touch of Evil” and he did it with a flair, panache and unflagging invention. He displays a mastery of staging, of camera placement and of bravura acting from the incredible cast that has seldom been matched in the canon of noir. (Russell Metty photographed it and Henry Mancini wrote the score.)
The movie is a masterpiece of pulp and expressionism. Just as with “Citizen Kane,” you can watch it over and over again, and still find surprises. The ending is both melancholy and exhilarating.
It’s wonderful that Welles got this last big studio chance. But it’s sad too, because we know that he was never able to make a go-for-broke super-Hollywood studio film like this again. No one was better at it.
Some aficionados think “Touch of Evil” is the very pinnacle of film noir. Even if it isn’t, it’s a movie that takes the whole notion of noir (the melding of hard-boiled crime stories and expressionist high style technique) to one of its craziest, wildest, most brilliant extremes.
“He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?”
Tana (Marlene Dietrich)
Wednesday, Oct. 29
8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Psycho” (1960, Alfred Hitchcock). With Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and Martin Balsam. Reviewed in FNB, on July 7, 2011.
12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Act of Violence” (1948, Fred Zinnemann). With Van Heflin, Robert Ryan and Janet Leigh. Reviewed in FNB, on Aug. 4, 2012.
1:45 a.m. (10:45 p.m.): “Harper” (1966, Jack Smight). With Paul Newman, Janet Leigh, Lauren Bacall and Julie Harris. Reviewed in FNB, on Dec. 4, 2012.
Friday, Oct. 31
Horror Halloween Marathon
11 a.m. (8 a.m.): “Cat People” (1942, Jacques Tourneur). With Simone Simon, Kent Smith and Tom Conway. Reviewed in FNB, on July 20, 2014.
3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m.): “Dementia 13” (1963, Francis Ford Coppola). With William Campbell, Luana Anders and Patrick Magee. Reviewed in FNB, on June 12, 2014.
4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “Carnival of Souls” (1962, Herk Harvey). An anguished young woman (Candace Hilligoss) nearly drowns and then makes her way to a small city. It’s mysteriously inhabited by ordinary-looking but strange people who seem to be the citizens of some other, more dangerous place. (The eerie, smiling little man who follows her all around is played by the writer-director, Herk Harvey.) This is a legendary low-budget horror classic, and few films of its type are scarier.
8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Night of the Living Dead” (1968, George Romero). With Duane Jones and Judith O’Dea. Reviewed in FNB, on March 27, 2012.
5:15 a.m. (2:15 a.m.): “Eyes Without a Face” (1959, Georges Franju). With Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli and Edith Scob. Reviewed in FNB, on Nov. 4, 2011.
Saturday, Nov. 1
6:15 p.m. (3:15 p.m.): “Point Blank” (1967, John Boorman). With Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson and Carroll O’Connor. Reviewed in FNB, on Jan. 28, 2013.
11:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m.): “North by Northwest” (1959, Alfred Hitchcock). With Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason.
4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “The Honeymoon Killers” (1969, Leonard Kastle). With Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco. Reviewed in FNB, on July 21, 2011.