#166 Touch of Evil

Watched: January 7 2018

Director: Orson Welles

Starring: Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor

Year: 1958

Runtime: 1h 35min

touch

Source

Mr & Mrs Vargas (Heston and Leigh, respectively) pass the border from Mexico to the USA only to have a car blow up in front of them. Mike Vargas, a Mexican agent, decides to look into it, while American-born Susan Vargas stupidly decides to follow a random dude back across the border.

touch1
She might make stupid decisions, but she’s got spunk and is intimidated by no man!

Source

Vargas is joined by US police officers Hank Quinlan (Welles) and his partner Pete Menzies (Calleia) and gets to tag along on their investigation. However, when Vargas witnesses Quinlan planting evidence in the apartment of their main suspect, he accuses the veteran police captain and starts to suspect that he, perhaps with his partner, has been operating this way for years.

touch2
“No, no, you silly Mexican police person! This dynamite was always on the premises. It’s just racist dynamite and will only show up if handled by an American.” “Then how did the Mexican suspect handle it?” “Uh, um, he must be half American or something…”

Source

Quinlan denies any wrongdoing and starts to work to discredit Vargas, or get rid of him altogether. Meanwhile “Uncle” Joe Grandi (Tamiroff) is also putting pressure on Quinlan since Vargas has been investigating Grandi’s brother. To keep her safe, Susan in moved to a remote motel where she finds herself the sole guest only joined by a very strange manager.

touch4
Turns out the motel is anything but safe…

Source

Touch of Evil is really very tense, especially Susan’s storyline. We were genuinely worried about her, no matter how spunky and independent she was, and she had some really horrible scenes. We loved the film though – we loved Susan, the Mexican being the good-guy protagonist (even if it was Charlton Heston in brownface), the total corruptedness of Quinlan and the na├»ve hero worshiping of Menzies.

Touch3
Also, there’s a brothel run by the fabulous Marlene Dietrich, which in itself is reason enough to watch this movie.

Source

Welles’ version was reedited and released as a very different movie than the one he envisioned. Since its 1958 debut, two other cuts have been released. We’re pretty sure the one we watched was the 1998 version cut together based on Orson Welles’ notes (we base this on nothing other than runtime, as we didn’t check the DVD-case). Just so you know, in case some of you think this is very important to this informal review.

touch5
Put down the gun, Orson! We’ll watch your (probably) preferred version! We swear!

Source

No matter which cut you go for, this is a great Noir with a fantastic opening shot (really – check it out!), a great ending, and some kind of a man. Great stuff!

touch6
No caption here. We just liked this picture.

Source

What we learned: Border towns bring out the worst people.

Next time: Vertigo (1958)

#36 The Scarlet Empress

Watched: September 9 2016

Director: Josef von Sternberg

Starring: Marlene Dietrich, John Lodge, Sam Jaffe, Louise Dresser

Year: 1934

Runtime: 1h 44min

the_scarlet_empress-989929865-large

Source

Innocent princess Sophia of Germany (Dietrich) has been chosen to marry Russia’s Grand Duke Peter (Jaffe) and is fetched from her German palace by the illegitimate offspring of Vlad Tepes and Titi Suru the Rock’n’Roll Wolf, Count Alexei (Lodge).

800full-the-scarlet-empress-screenshot-jpg
“When in wolf form, father Vlad had certain…appetites… And once he found himself wandering into a Russian ballet musical. The rest is history.”

Source

Inexperienced and sheltered as she is, she naturally falls for the animalistic wolf-man before arriving in Russia, and falls for him doubly once she meets the “imbecilic royal halfwit” she is to marry. However, she is a woman of her word and keeps her promise to bring new blood into the Russian royal family (and about time too, judging by her husband).

wedding
“She is so lucky to be marrying me!”

Source

Exposed to the harsh realities of life in the household of the Russian Empress (Dresser), the coldness of her arranged marriage, and Vlad Suru’s reputation as a Lothario (kind of like his fathers, we guess) the once innocent child becomes Catherine the Great, a seductive and intelligent ruler who will no longer be a pawn in other people’s power games. Instead, she’ll play her own.

scarlet
And she’ll play them in style

Source

This movie is epic in scope, violent and stunning, beautifully scored with themes from Wagner and Tchaikovsky among others (they’re the ones we could recognize anyway), and really well acted. The costumes, tableaux and sets are amazing (we love the grotesques everywhere in the castle), and there are so many huge, impressive scenes that you tend to wonder how much money was put into this production. We’re guessing a lot. But that is a conservative estimate – it may have been much more. The Scarlet Empress is an epic ride from start to finish, and we loved it!

poster-scarlet-empress-the_02
“How do you do, I’m Titi Suru, friendliest wolf you’ve met.”

Source

What we learned: rebound sex is an old, time honoured tradition.

Next time: Twentieth Century (1934)