Directed by Hollywood legend Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, The Stranger, The Lady from Shanghai), Touch of Evil is a film noir masterpiece whose Hollywood backstory is as unforgettable as the movie itself.
Starring Charlton Heston (The Big Country, Ben-Hur), Janet Leigh (The Manchurian Candidate, Psycho) and Welles himself, this dark portrait of corruption and morally compromised obsessions tells the story of a crooked police chief who frames a Mexican youth as part of an intricate criminal plot.
With its iconic ticking-bomb opening shot, shadowy cinematography by Russell Metty (Spartacus), evocative score by Henry Mancini (Arabesque) and memorable supporting turns by Akim Tamiroff (The General Died at Dawn) and Marlene Dietrich (Desire), Touch of Evil is a stylistic triumph that stands the test of time.
It started with rehearsals. We rehearsed two weeks prior to shooting, which was unusual. We rewrote most of the dialogue, all of us, which was also unusual, and Mr. Welles always wanted our input. It was a collective effort, and there was such a surge of participation, of creativity, of energy. You could feel the pulse growing as we rehearsed. You felt you were inventing something as you went along. Mr. Welles wanted to seize every moment. He didn’t want one bland moment. He made you feel you were involved in a wonderful event that was happening before your eyes. —Janet Leigh
A strange and unhappy thing, he could just charm the birds out of the bloody trees and… actors and crewmen just thought he was great, but he almost deliberately seemed to go to lengths to ignore or even insult studio executives. —Charlton Heston
As time has gone by, though, Touch of Evil has acquired a large cult following, and it now regularly appears on lists of the best films of the century. What is not generally known is that the film never accurately reflected Welles’s intentions for it. In July 1957, the studio took over the editing of the film and prevented him from participating in its completion. In an odd turn of events, however, a 58-page memo that Welles wrote in 1957 was recently rediscovered, and a small team on which I was film editor and sound mixer has used that remarkable document to bring Touch of Evil as close as possible to Welles’s original concept. —Walter Murch