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Orson Welles directs and stars in this fevered film noir classic, playing a beastly, bloated detective in a seamy border town who draws a straight-arrow Mexican narcotics agent (Charlton Heston) and his blonde, all-American bride (Janet Leigh) into a labyrinth of corruption, drug-peddling and murder.
"The high point in Orson Welles's career, after Citizen Kane" (Tom Conley), this marimba-propelled mambo of mendacity turns its every improbable shot into a feat of seedy sensibility, and offers blondes galore. Mexican narcotics agent Mike Vargas (a pre-NRA Charlton Heston), honeymooning in a border town with his new American wife (Janet Leigh, warming up for Psycho), is caught in a labyrinth of corruption, drug peddling and murder, all of it engineered by Welles' beastly, bloated detective Hank Quinlan. ("Your future is all used up," growls cantina queen Marlene Dietrich to the chocolate-chewing copper, "why don't you go home?") A big pleasure machine for everyone from semioticians to those with a taste for tawdry tabloids, Touch of Evil is enlivened not only by its lurid high style, but also by a game-show cast of international has-beens, wannabes and yet-to-bes, including Zsa Zsa Gabor, Akim Tamiroff, Dennis Weaver and, most bizarre of all, an uncredited and androgynous Mercedes McCambridge, who whines "I wanna watch!" as a gang of hopped-up leather boys circle round Heston's virginal bride in an isolated motel room. Re-edited according to Welles' original intentions in 1998, this restored version brings new clarity and even more virtuoso fireworks to his south-of-the-border, high-fifties fandango of bras, bongos, and barbiturates.