Movie Mirrors Index

Touch of Evil

(1958 b 111')

En: 7 Ed: 7

Based on Whit Masterson’s novel and directed by Orson Welles with his recommended editing, in a border community a Mexican detective married to an American helps solve a murder case involving an American police chief who tries to control things.

            At night a man sets a timer on a bomb and puts it in the trunk of a convertible car before a couple gets in and drives off. They drive slowly in a busy part of town. A couple walking at the border are asked if they are American citizens. The man walking is Ramon Miguel “Mike” Vargas (Charlton Heston), and he is with his wife Susan Vargas (Janet Leigh). The border guard speaks to Jim who is driving the car. Vargas admits he caught a criminal in a big family. Susan says they have not been alone for a while. They hear and see an explosion that blew up the car. He runs over there and tells her to be careful. He says it could be bad for their trip to Mexico, but he will try not to be too long. Mike finds someone he knows from Washington, and he talks with Al Schwartz (Victor Millan) about the bomb and the car coming from the Mexican side of the border. Susan is surrounded by Mexicans, and she says she is a married woman. The young Mexican hands her a note that she should follow him because he has something important for Mr. Vargas. She agrees.

            District Attorney Adair (Ray Collins) arrives in a car and asks Mike where Captain Quinlan is. Mike says he is on his way. Adair asks if the daughter has been told, and a man says they are bringing her over. Marcia Linnekar (Joanna Moore) arrives and guesses that is her father. She does not know who her father’s girlfriend was. Captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) arrives, and Adair calls him their police celebrity. Quinlan asks if it was planted ahead of time.

            Susan goes with the Mexican into a hotel as her picture is taken. Uncle Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff) tells her his name and shows her a revolver. She says scaring her will not scare off her husband.

            Adair and Quinlan talk, and Mike asks why Quinlan thinks it was dynamite. They wonder if Vargas will get involved in the case, and he says he is only an observer.

            Susan warns Grandi she may start to yell soon. She asks what he has for her husband, and he tells her that he must lay off his brother in Mexico City. He says she is free to go at any time, and nobody touched her. She opens the door and goes out.

            Quinlan leads Adair and three other men to the border where they stop as Quinlan goes on alone. Susan finds Mike, and he asks where she was. The other men notice them. A young Mexican is following Mike. The group of men go in a back way. The Mexican calls Vargas and throws a bottle of gas against the wall. They struggle, and the Mexican runs off. Mike tells a man that he could not catch him.

            In a cabaret the strip-club owner (Zsa Zsa Gabor) tells Quinlan that the woman only joined the show a few days ago. Quinlan walks in the street with a cane while eating. He goes in a poker club where Tanya (Marlene Dietrich) says they are closed. He asks if she has been cooking. She is cleaning up and says she did not recognize him. She says they have the television and run movies. He asks if she knows anything about the bomb, and she says she heard it; but it was on their side of the border. Schwartz tells Quinlan that Vargas ran into trouble. They go back to the group, and Mike tells him his wife met some Mexicans. Quinlan asks Mike to describe the man, but he tells him little. Quinlan asks if his wife was molested, and he says no. Adair cautions Quinlan that he is on the wrong track. Mike indicates he does not like the violence in his job. Quinlan leaves with Schwartz. Mike walks alone.

            In a hotel Susan is changing and finds a flashlight on her from outside. She tells him to turn it off now because she is dressed. Mike comes in and asks why she is in the dark. She says it is because there are no shades on the windows. The bulb has been broken.

            In the street Grandi and another man catch the young Mexican. Grandi says two men are in jail, and one is dead.

            Mike tells Susan that this is not the real Mexico. He asks if she is taking the plane that leaves in two hours, and he is glad if she is.

            The young Mexican gives Grandi his “rug” back for his bald head. A Mexican runs over to Susan and shows her a paper. She comes out, and he gives her a note with a photo of her and the young Mexican. Mike says he can take her to the airport, but she has changed her mind and wants to stick close to him. She gets in a convertible car and says she will be safe on the American side of the border. He would like to be able to look after his wife in his own country. He drives the car.

            Grandi tells a young Mexican they will not put a hand on him.

            As they drive, Mike tells her about the long border between their countries. She kisses him and puts her arms around him. He parks and kisses her.

            Grandi is driving a car.

            Schwartz gets out of a police car that stopped and tells Mike they have something new. Police Sergeant Pete Menzies (Joseph Calleia) offers to drop her at the hotel. Mike goes with Schwartz, and Pete says they forgot the cane Quinlan needs. He drives the car with Susan and says Quinlan stopped a bullet meant for him. Grandi is following them. Pete sees him in the rear-view mirror and blocks the road. Grandi comes to a stop, and Pete asks him why he is following them. Pete tells Susan this is the motel, though they are in a desert. She sees Grandi and says, “Oh no.” Pete tells Grandi to get in her car. Pete has taken her bags out and leaves her by a small building. He and Grandi drive off in the car. She goes in a room, and a man says he will turn up the music for her. She says not now because it is past seven, and she wants to go to bed. He brought her sheets, and he says it is day. The night manager (Dennis Weaver) says there is no manager. He works the night and wants to leave. She asks him to help make the bed. He thinks Grandi is her friend, but she says he is under arrest. He laughs.

            At a Linnekar construction site Quinlan in the car questions the foreman about stolen dynamite. The man says they must leave because they are blasting. Quinlan asks how long he has been out. After an explosion Quinlan, Vargas, Schwartz, and a driver leave.

            Back in town Quinlan is seen from a room where two men are with Marcia. The American says he will do all the talking. Quinlan warns Mike and asks for food and coffee. Quinlan questions Marcia and the two men. The boss man calls her his client and leaves with her, but Manelo Sanchez (Victor Millan) is detained by a policeman. He talks Spanish with Mike. Quinlan tells Mike to speak English. The Mexican knows some English. When he speaks Spanish again, Quinlan slaps him. Mike goes into another room to use the telephone. A detective shows some love letters to Quinlan. Mike comes back, and they discuss the case. They say he needs evidence, and Quinlan says they will get it. Quinlan says it is not his case nor his country, and Mike goes across the street  and asks to use the phone. The woman is blind, and he asks information for the hotel phone number. Pete arrives with Grandi, and Quinlan asks why. He says Grandi was following them.

            Susan answers the phone, and Mike says Quinlan is going to arrest the boy Sanchez. He tells her he loves her, and she says she is sleepy. He says he will call later and hangs up. She calls the clerk, who says she is the only customer. A Mexican says he is in charge, no one will disturb her without his permission.

            Sanchez defends himself and tries to explain to Mike and Pete. Grandi asks when he can leave and says he was not breaking the law. Mike says he does not know this Grandi who says Mike is going to testify against his brother. Quinlan asks Sanchez how much dynamite he stole. Sanchez says he and Marcia married secretly. Pete says Quinlan nailed his man again. Quinlan says Rudy Linnekar was blown up with dynamite, and they found that Sanchez stole some; so the case is wrapped up. Quinlan tells Sanchez he will get the electric chair. Sanchez appeals to Mike and swears he had no dynamite in that apartment. Before he is taken away, Sanchez asks Mike to help him. Quinlan shows Mike a shoe box and says he found two sticks of dynamite in it. Mike says he saw the box was empty ten minutes ago. Quinlan tells him not to worry. Mike accuses him of framing the boy and leaves. Schwartz warns Quinlan that Mike could testify. Schwartz walks to Mike’s car and leaves with him. In the street Grandi tells Quinlan they should talk, and Pete sees them from a window walk off together.

            Susan looks out the window, and a hot rod arrives with several young people.

            Mike drives in town and talks with Schwartz, who suggests they go to Quinlan’s ranch. Mike says he could be wrong.

            Susan in her nightgown asks the manager to turn the music off so that she can sleep. She asks for another room, and the manager asks where she wants him to take her. The night man asks the young men to turn the music down. The Mexican manager tells him to beat it, but the night man wants to stay. The manager tells him to get some lunch. He says they are Grandi boys. The manager answers the phone and tells Susan the number for the police. Then he tells her the phone is out of service now.

            Grandi gives Quinlan a drink at a table in a bar. He says they may be able to hurt Vargas. Grandi says they are partners, but Quinlan does not drink to that. Grandi orders him more bourbon.

            At the motel Susan cannot sleep.

            The D. A. and Chief Gould (Harry Shannon) ask Mike for his document. He has them go in the elevator, and Adair says Mike is charging a police chief. Mike meets the elevator and takes them into his room and shows the paper to Adair from his department of records. It shows that Quinlan bought some dynamite. Mike calls the motel, and the Mexican manager says his wife left instructions not to be disturbed. She pounds on the wall, and a woman says the men are trying to get in there. She mentions Mary Jane and says they take it in the vein.

            In the bar Quinlan is getting drunk, and Pete says Vargas is at his hotel across the street. He is telling the D. A. that Quinlan planted the dynamite. Quinlan says his wife was strangled. Pete pays the bill as Quinlan drinks coffee. Quinlan says he is going to see Vargas.

            Gould tells Mike that Quinlan is an honest cop, but Mike says honest men can abuse their power. Quinlan comes in and says he heard it already. Mike says police should not work like dog catchers. He says being a good policeman is a tough job. Quinlan asks Vargas where his wife is. Quinlan finds a pigeon egg and breaks it. Mike says they went to his ranch. Gould says he is asking. Quinlan throws down his badge and walks out, saying the people will have to vote him back. Adair asks Mike to apologize, but he refuses and does not want to test his authority. Mike asks Al where he can find the records of Quinlan’s old cases, and they leave together. In the elevator Quinlan asks Adair what he knows about Vargas. Adair says he works on drug trafficking, and Quinlan assumes he is an addict. Gould advises Quinlan to be careful, and he says he will.

            Schwartz opens a file drawer and hands Mike a folder. Schwartz says he has his work cut out for him and leaves him there.

            Susan is in her room, and the Mexican manager comes in.

            Pete calls Tanya and asks if Quinlan is there. She says he has not been staying there for years.

            The night manager is eating. Three more men and three young women come into Susan’s room and stare at her. The night manager turns off the music in another room. The men grab Susan, and she yells to let her go.

            Pete finds Mike in the hall of records and asks what he is doing. He grabs papers, steps back and looks at them. Mike says what they are. He asks if Pete ever planted evidence, and he says of course not. Pete says Mike can smear Quinlan and ruin his life’s work. Pete does not know where Quinlan is, but he is drunk after twelve years on the wagon. Mike asks about the people Quinlan sent to the death house.

            At night Mike arrives and asks the night manager why all the lights are out. He asks to go to his wife’s cabin, and the man says no one is there. Mike says his name is Vargas and asks him to check the register. Mike looks himself and sees no one registered for a week. Mike goes out, and the night man says there was a party. He points to cabin #7, and they walk over to it. Mike asks if there was a fight, and he says it was a different kind of brawl, a wine party. Mike goes in the room with a flashlight and says that cannot be his wife’s room. He finds his briefcase he left with her. He notices his gun is gone. They go out, and Mike asks the man if he was in that room. Mike asks where they are, and he says at Rancho Grandi. Mike drives off in a hurry.

            Grandi comes into a room and sees Susan unconscious on a bed. He questions two women, and they go out. Grandi tells Quinlan it is okay, and they go in the room. Grandi turns out the light and says no one can see. Quinlan puts on gloves. Grandi asks why he had them bring her to town. Quinlan points a pistol at Grandi and tells him to dial the police and to ask for Sergeant Menzies. Grandi says he will have a story to tell if he turns him in. Quinlan asks Pete for news and tells him Susan is in the Ritz Hotel #18. He hangs up and has Grandi give him the key. Quinlan threatens Grandi who breaks a window and tries to get out. Quinlan takes a stocking and chokes him. Quinlan sees Susan moving a little and leaves. She opens her eyes, sees Grandi dead; she screams for help from the balcony, and people below see her. Mike arrives in his car, and she calls to him. He drives on and goes in a club where a woman is dancing on the bar. He smashes a glass and shouts in Spanish. He grabs a young man, and others run out. He tries to make Sanchez tell him where his wife is. Another man fights Mike. Police whistles are heard, and the men run out. Schwartz tells Mike that the vice squad picked up his wife half naked on a bed with drugs there. She is being charged with murder.

            Mike finds Susan in a jail cell. A detective says they found evidence of a mixed party with drugs. Mike says Quinlan is trying to lay a murder rap on his wife. Pete looks and says nothing. He beckons Mike to go, and Mike follows him to another room. He says there is no formal charge against her. He shows Mike the cane and says he found it in the hotel room with Grandi’s body.

            Quinlan is in a club with a player piano. Outside Mike and Pete say he has been sitting there for two hours, but the music makes it hard to hear. Mike places a wire under Pete’s clothes, and they talk about sodium pentothal. Mike says he wants his wife’s name clean and warns him not to cross his arms. Pete says he can handle this thing. Mike has a tape recorder and says he hates it. Pete says he did not have to show him Hank’s cane. Pete says Quinlan made him an honest cop.

            Quinlan asks Tanya to read his future in her tarot cards. She says he has no future left and suggests he go home. Mike waits outside, and Pete says he will get him outside so Mike can hear him over the piano. Quinlan sees Pete outside, and Pete tells him to come out. Quinlan comes to him and says he wants another drink. They walk down the street, and Mike tries to pick up the signal and listens. Quinlan warns Pete that Vargas will turn him into an idealist. Mike follows them in an oil well tower. Quinlan says he has only a couple acres because he is an honest cop. Pete says he murdered Grandi and asks about the gun he stole from Mike’s briefcase. Quinlan says Grandi was a crook. Pete says he strangled him while drunk and crazy. Quinlan asks what else there is to think about. Mike is now below them and takes off his coat. As they cross a bridge, Mike wades into the water. Quinlan hears an echo and asks Pete what he hears. Quinlan looks down and says, “Vargas.” Quinlan says he has a hunch and says Pete sounds nervous. Quinlan wonders if he is tailing him, and he asks Pete if he is carrying a bug for him. He asks where Vargas is. Quinlan speaks loud to Vargas. Pete asks for the gun and is shot. Mike sees them, and Quinlan walks past him. Mike runs after him. Quinlan falls on a pile of rubble. Mike says he cannot talk his way out of this. Quinlan says Vargas killed him. Mike asks for his gun back. Mike asks if anyone will believe him. Quinlan points the gun at Vargas and says he is going to die in his country. A car pulls up, and Quinlan shoots but misses. He points the gun at Mike, but Pete shoots Quinlan from behind and collapses. Mike sees Schwartz and asks about his wife. Mike says he got evidence recorded. Schwartz says she is in the car, and Mike goes to her. Schwartz goes to Quinlan and listens to the tape. Quinlan staggers backwards and falls in the water. Tanya approaches and sees him. Schwartz says he framed Sanchez, but he confessed. Schwartz says Quinlan was right after all. He says he was a great detective, but she says he was a lousy cop. She says Pete loved Quinlan, who was some kind of a man. Schwartz says goodbye to her, and she walks off.

            This classic film noir examines the dirty life on the Mexican side of the American border involving a criminal gang, but it is the American police chief who succumbs to corruption and then tries to frame the person challenging his honesty. The story shows that police can have a difficult time trying to catch criminals while remaining honest and law-abiding.
Copyright © 2012 by Sanderson Beck

Movie Mirrors Index

BECK index