“Touch of Evil”: A Classic Film Noir with a Controversial Depiction of the US-Mexico Border
“Touch of Evil” (1958) is a classic film noir thriller, directed and starred in by Orson Welles. The film showcases the seedy side of American culture, focusing on crime, corruption and racial tension. Set in a small border town between the US and Mexico, “Touch of Evil” explores the theme of xenophobia through the eyes of its main character, Miguel Vargas (played by Charlton Heston), a Mexican police detective who is investigating a bombing case.
2. “Touch of Evil” as one of Orson Welles’s masterpieces in Hollywood
Orson Welles was a Hollywood legend and one of the most influential filmmakers of all time. He started his career in theatre, but soon made his mark in radio and cinema. “Citizen Kane” (1941) is widely considered his magnum opus, but “Touch of Evil” is also regarded as one of his greatest works in Hollywood.
“Touch of Evil” is often cited as an example of how to make an effective film noir. The use of shadow and light creates a sense of unease, while the slow-burn pacing builds tension throughout the movie. The film’s cinematography is visually stunning, making full use of its desert location. And Welles’s performance as the corrupt cop Captain Hank Quinlan is both chilling and captivating.
3. The use of stereotypes and racial issues in “Touch of Evil”
“Touch of Evil” is a highly stylized film that makes use of stereotypes and racial issues for its narrative purposes. The town where the majority of the film takes place is portrayed as a seedy place full of criminals and degenerates. This is exemplified by the portrayal of Mexicans as dirty, untrustworthy and dangerous. There are also several scenes where Vargas is subjected to racist slurs by Quinlan and his colleagues.
The film also uses gender stereotypes for its characters. Vargas’s wife Susie (played by Janet Leigh) is portrayed as a helpless victim who needs to be protected by her husband. And while Susie is shown to be competent in her job as a motel clerk, she is still ultimately defined by her relationship to Vargas.
4. The representation of the US-Mexico shooting in “Touch of Evil”
One of the most controversial scenes in “Touch of Evil” is the depiction of the US-Mexico shooting. In this scene, two men cross the border into the US and are promptly shot by a sniper from a distance. While it’s never explicitly stated who fired the shots, it’s heavily implied that it was done by someone from the US side.
This scene was highly controversial at the time, as it was seen as pro-Mexican propaganda. There were even calls for the film to be banned in the US. However, it’s worth noting that “Touch of Evil” predates the modern immigration debate, so it’s possible that Welles wasn’t trying to make any sort of political statement with this scene.
In conclusion, “Touch of Evil” is a classic film noir that uses stereotypes and racial issues for its narrative purposes. The film was highly controversial at the time due to its depiction of the US-Mexico shooting,