#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

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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.

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

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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.

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“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…”

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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.

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Turns out the motel is anything but safe…

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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!

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No caption here. We just liked this picture.

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

Next time: Vertigo (1958)

#94 The Third Man

Watched: March 27 2017

Director: Carol Reed

Starring: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 44min

The Third Man Poster

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Holly Martins (Cotten) arrives in post-war Vienna to start a job provided for him by Harry Lime (Welles) only to find that his friend has died. As Martins starts looking into the accidental death, things don’t add up. Conflicting witness statements and suspicious characters convince the mystery writer that there is something strange going on and he starts to investigate with the help of Harry’s (somewhat illegal) girlfriend, Anna Schmidt (Valli).

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It’s a long and winding road to get at the truth. And it’s almost as if there’s symbolism in the sets and cinematography.

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We cannot really say much more about the plot without spoiling the film. Suffice to say, Holly’s suspicions are not unfounded and his investigation takes him deep into the murky waters of war profiteering in post-war/early cold war era Vienna. There are twists and turns aplenty and it’s an exciting and engaging watch.

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It’s a wet dream for cobblestone aficionados everywhere!

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What stands out the most in The Third Man is the incredible use of shadows which reminded us a bit of the early German expressionist films we watched, just turned up to 11 (as did a lot of the angles). The beautiful architecture of Vienna with the juxtaposition of the gorgeous buildings and the rubble of the collapsed structures was beautiful, although we’re sure Austrians may disagree with that.

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For horror fans, there’s also a creepy balloon guy.

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Wet cobblestones, lots of arches, scary shadows, and a strangely beautiful sewer system make the film very visually appealing. There’s also a decorative lampshade – the very epitome of the Noir trope. The performances are great, with Welles being nicely menacing and slick.

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As we said, cobblestone aficionados need look no further for a fix.

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Neither do fans of Orson Welles’ strange charm

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Seriously though – very attractive sewer! We can see ourselves turning it into some sort of Gothic paradise.

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What we learned: War is the mother of invention. Also, sister the oldest is a little shadow slut. She loves her some good shadows!

Next time: White Heat (1949)

#54 Citizen Kane

Watched: October 22 2016

Director: Orson Welles

Starring: Orson Welles & the Mercury Actors

Year: 1941

Runtime: 1h 59min

Note: only Sister the Oldest watched this, as Sister the Youngest had fucked off to Oslo. Incidentally, she timed her trip so that she would avoid watching Citizen Kane… And unlike The Bank Dick, whose title no one could resist, Sister the Oldest couldn’t find anyone interested in watching this classic drama with her, so it was just her, a bottle of wine, and Orson Welles. She had a blast!

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It was terrific!

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We suppose no one really needs a recap of this classic, as it is generally considered the greatest film of all time. Still, we’ll give you a short summary. A rich, narcissistic publishing tycoon, Charles Foster Kane (Welles), dies alone in his vast mansion, and for some reason everyone knows his last word, “Rosebud,” even though he was clearly alone when he died.

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Our theory is he was overheard by a chatty ghost, as this place is clearly haunted!

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A journalist working on a newsreel of the magnate’s life (which was in no way based on real people, by the way! No siree, not at all!) sets out to find the meaning of Kane’s last word, and interviews old associates, friends and an ex-wife to try and get to the bottom of the mystery. He fails in that particular quest, but what he does find is a sad boy with abandonment issues and a slight case of megalomania. As for “Rosebud,” the audience are given the answer at the end of the film.

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Hint: it’s pictured here, and it is not wearing a top hat. #spoileralert

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I have to level with you, and admit that we were not looking forward to this. We both watched it in school when we were about 16 or 17, and found it incredibly boring, which is why S.t.Y. decided to skip town rather than rewatch it. I, S.t.O., wasn’t really excited either (while interested in film at 17, I was more into the Jackson and Raimi cult horror stuff than the Welles classics kind), but I have clearly matured a bit since 17 (thank God!) and this time around, I loved it.

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It even has a dance number! More than enough to keep me entertained.

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It had me from the Gothic opening and I was enthralled throughout. The story, the shots, the camera angles, the non-linear storytelling, not to mention the increasingly unlikable Kane, all come together to make a great film. One could spend hours (and paragraphs) analysing and commenting on the technical and artistic brilliance of Citizen Kane, but that has been done several times by people better qualified than me, so I shan’t even attempt it. I’ll just tell you this: if you were forced to watch it at a young age and didn’t like it, wait until you’re older and rewatch it. You won’t be sorry.

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I’d also like to point out that Welles was only 26 when Citizen Kane was released. Just to add to any inferiority complex you might have.

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What we learned: no matter how good your intentions, money and power corrupt.

Next time: Dumbo (1941)