Touch of Evil is only the second film I’ve seen to be directed by Orson Welles but both are amongst the most beautifully constructed I’ve ever seen. Based on the novel Badge of Evil, legend has it that Welles challenged producer Albert Zugsmith to provide him with the worst script available, which Welles promised to turn into a great film. Whether true or not, the second part of that sentence is utterly correct. Welles turned out a terrific picture which is handsomely directed, tightly written and wonderfully acted.
The movie opens on a famous three minute and twenty second tracking shot, a shot which has been copied by and influenced scores of film makers since. A car is loaded with a bomb and is then driven across the Mexican border, into Texas. After exploding on the American side of the crossing, a newlywed Mexican drug enforcement official named Miguel Vargas (Charlton Heston) is one of the first on the scene. After ushering his wife (Janet Leigh) to safety, he quickly assesses the crime but is soon pushed to one side by the old, dependable local Police Captain, Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles). Quinlan and Vargas chase the leads but soon Vargas begins to believe that his American counterpart isn’t playing fair.