American Film of the 50s- Touch of Evil, by Aaron Pinkston

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7 Responses

  1. Scott Nye says:

    I recently revisited TOUCH OF EVIL myself, and a lot of your reading of it rings true, but I think the “outsider” element is necessarily complicated by the very fact that Vargas is the hero of the story and Quinlan is the villain. Sure, if the end, they’re chasing “outsider” villains, but Welles’ suggestion is that Quinlan is by far the more dangerous presence for his capacity to wreak havoc on innocent lives without being punished for it. THAT, of course, is in turn complicated by the fact that he’s right in the end about his chief suspect, but Welles marginalizes that conclusion so much that it scarcely seems to matter that he gets results, given all we’ve seen him do in the ensuing time.

    I think, if anything, Quinlan relates to the ideas of the 1950s by exposing the dirty underbelly of assumed white privilege. It’s not only that Quinlan is a racist in his attitudes, but he expects a certain subordination that many more outwardly “polite” white people shared. It’s telling, of course, that Welles made himself as hideous as possible in tackling the character.

    I don’t know how many films you’re catching in the series, but in addition to the big, obvious ones (VERTIGO, THE SEARCHERS, etc.), you really owe it to yourself to see GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT (one of my favorite films of the 50s), and BIGGER THAN LIFE (I am often at odds with Nicholas Ray, but this one is seriously great). It’s a fascinating period, one many are adopting as the best decade of cinema (if indeed there is one), and I’m looking forward to hearing your take on it. And, of course, brutishly offering my own, but what else is new.

    • I think the thought of Quinlan as white privilege is spot-on, good call. It’s not that he’s just racist and evil, but he is so respected by genuinely good people. Some who even know his poor moral decisions excuse them as being for something of a greater good or just ignore this aspect of him – but they aren’t necessarily evil themselves, even if they know he abuses his power.

      I’m planning on seeing them all – I’ve already seen about half of them, but not THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT or BIGGER THAN LIFE, so I’m excited for those.

  2. colby says:

    Awesome, this is one of my favorite movies to dissect. The discussion of the film technology is really interesting- I hope you do more about that in this series.

    • Scott Nye says:

      On that subject, TOUCH OF EVIL is one of many, many films from the 1950s that have since been intensely scrutinized in an effort to determine its “correct” aspect ratio. Widescreen was undoubtedly on the rise, but in the meantime, films were largely shot in full frame (1.37:1) to allow older theaters to show movies the way they always had, and then masked to widescreen (1.85:1) for theaters that were set up for it. This is not to say that the full frame version was always the intended one – in most cases, simple examination of the frames show obvious preference for a shorter frame – but that duality has long plagued determined cinephiles.

      In the case of TOUCH OF EVIL, Masters of Cinema put out a wonderful Blu-ray that I cannot recommend highly enough for those who can play Region-B discs, presenting all three cuts of the film (its initial theatrical version, the later-discovered “preview” version, and the 1998 version reconstructed according to Welles’ notes and presumed wishes), two of which are in both full frame and widescreen. The whole package provides a terrific avenue to explore how aspect ratio affects the feel of a picture, inviting the viewer to come to their own conclusion as to which is indeed the “best.”

  3. Ray (@RaySquirrel) says:

    I recently watched both the theatrical cut of Touch of Evil simultaneously with reconstructed cut. Really makes the differences stand out.

    Did the same thing with the 4 different cuts of Blade Runner. Ten minutes in I just thought, “There’s gotta be a better way I can use my time.”

    • Though I’ve seen TOUCH OF EVIL a number of times, I’ve never seen the theatrical version. How would you compare it?

      • Ray (@RaySquirrel) says:

        There’s a scene and shots not shot by Welles. When viewed in a timeline they stick out like flat postage stamps in the middle of an interplay of light, shadow, depth, and perspective. Huge chunks cut out of the mid section. And much less cross-cutting.

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