Liese Spencer on film

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The Independent Online
Orson Welles (below) ballooning around with swollen malevolence, Marlene Dietrich in gypsy trinkets and Chuck Heston playing Latino. Touch of Evil is Hollywood class dressed-down as fly-blown melodrama. Based on Whit Masterson's paperback thriller, the film landed in Welles's lap at the dog end of his career. After 10 years in Europe, the great director had returned to Hollywood, only to wind up doing magic tricks on TV. Welles rewrote the script, slapped on a new title and set about directing what has become a cult classic.

The film's famously sustained opening take travels from a ticking bomb to an explosive kiss as honeymooners Miguel and Susan Vargas cross the Mexican-American border. Investigating the bombing, Heston's upright narcotics cop quickly comes up against corrupt American justice, in the 20-stone form of Welles's Hank Quinlan.

Two years before she was to have her shower cut short by Ma Bates, Janet Leigh anticipates the role of blonde sacrifice as Susan, a pure American bride in a world of dank canals and seedy bars. Imprisoned in a sleazy motel room, she's terrorised by a gang of Mexican leather boys, forcibly shot up with drugs and framed for murder, while Vargas busily tries to nail Quinlan. The threat of rape hangs around this airless picture like a bad smell.

Despite Heston's heroics and a number of cameos, it is Quinlan the villain who fascinates. A charlatan who nevertheless inspires those around him, whose monstrous ego is matched only by his gargantuan frame. Sad, then, to think that the actor and auteur who put together this morbid masterpiece should have ended his years starring only in drinks commercials.

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