It's hard to watch Janet Leigh given her most famous role in Pyscho, in Touch of Evil, as she blunders her way through one dangerous situation after another to arrive at a lot of bad motels. True to form for her career, no good comes to her in a motel. In the early scenes in Mexico, where she is supposed to be on her honeymoon with Charleton Heston she witnesses a horrifying car bomb and is almost kidnapped from the lobby of her hotel. Next she is the victim of a creepy peeping tom before being driven out to the middle of nowhere to a very Batesian looking motel where she is nearly gang-raped and forced to over-dose. She is then taken unconcious to another hotel that is also possibly a brothel where he is left alone with a murder victim. I can't help but think that if she had access to Hotwire or some other modern day guide to accomodation she could have avoided a lot of problems. I can just see a review for the hotel in the desert: 1/2 star, inconvenient to public transportation, staff is made up of criminal underworld, no clean towels, noisy (there was some kind of sock hop/drug party/orgy in room next door), security is poor as adjoining door to room was easily forced and the telephones never work. On the plus side, the ice machine seemed well stocked, though I didn't have occasion to use it as I was busy over-dosing on heroin.
The biggest source of suspense in the movie is Heston's lack of attention to his new bride who seems so obviously vulnerable wherever she goes. He is off to investigate the car bomb, and gets entangled with an American sheriff (Orson Welles) who is determined to pin the crime on a local gigolo. When Heston decides to oppose the Sheriff, Welles feels no guilt about going after his wife. As film noir, I think that Touch of Evil is in the Pantheon because of its dark, surreal mood and Welles performance but as with many films in this genre, I wish it were more grounded in common sense. Heston's character is so wrapped up in his work that even when it becomes clear that he's in over his head and that he may loose his new bride, he keeps poking the angry wasps nest that is this crooked litle fifedom. Perhaps it is a chink in my film buff armor to admit that most film noir leaves me pretty cold and usually confused. There are some exceptions of course such as Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon, The Killers and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Touch of Evil certainly is visually arresting and it is easier to follow than many entries in the genre, but in the end I just didn't love it.
Welles performance is certainly stylish and Marlene Dietrich has a nice cameo as an aging prostitute who has a nostalgic friendship with the Sheriff. One of the more interesting aspects of the plot is the way in which the film blurs the line between Mexico and California. You never really know which part of the action takes place in which country and that is part of the wonderful irony. Our American sense of superiority would teach us that the crooked cop is bound to be Mexican and the honest cop American, but that is just the opposite case here. Yet, as a villian, Welles' character is weirdly charming . At any rate he's a nice contrast to the tiresomely upright Heston (Can you tell I'm not a fan?) and I could imagine that it wouldn't have taken more than one or two changes to the script to switch the roles of hero and villian. Had this movie been made in the 70s, I think that's the way it would have gone down.
Perhaps I should set a goal for myself to watch more film noir in hopes of eventually "getting" what everyone always seems to love in this genre. I'd certainly be willing to take suggestions in the comments area for titles with which to start.
Bridget Jones's Dairy (2001)
7 years ago