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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Touch of Evil (1958)



Reviews and Comments

Touch of Evil is a wonderful noir classic from writer-director-star Orson Welles. It has a devilishly windy plot, fabulous cinematography, and a devious and bizarre crew of characters. The film is set on the border between Mexico and the United States and involves drug trafficking, corrupt cops, and a tangle of charades. I recommend not worrying too much about the plot the first time you see it: it's better to soak up the seedy atmosphere of the film and pick up the story details on the second viewing.

Like other films in Welles' post-Citizen Kane career, Touch of Evil suffered from excessive studio meddling. Unlike most of these stories, however, it has a happy ending. In 1998, Touch of Evil was re-edited according to a 58-page memo sent by Welles to the studio after viewing the studio-edited cut. The memo was a meticulously detailed defense of Welles' own cut and a plea that the film be restored. It was not, but the new 1998 cut contains the changes Welles wanted. This version runs for 111 minutes and includes the restoration of 16 minutes of footage and the reparation of a great opening tracking shot, now uncluttered with credits and music. The tracking shot, besides being an impressively coordinated shot in itself, is invaluable for establishing the setting and atmosphere of the film.