Thursday, October 16, 2008

TOUCH OF EVIL (Orson Welles, 1958, USA) Orson Welles is the honestly corrupt Hank Quinlan who is great detective…but a lousy cop. The opening three-minute tracking sequence is a masterpiece of choreography and movement; a juxtaposition of characters, sound, and environment as the crane-shot begins with a ticking bomb and ends in an explosive lover’s embrace. The stark black and white photography is permeated with the stench of corruption, its celluloid pores exuding a nervous sweat that lingers in the thick atmosphere. Welles often films in low angles with dominating characters, the background shrouded in mystery and darkness, then cuts to an oily and wheezing close-up: this creates a sense of debauchery reducing people to grinning caricatures, the lines between good and evil blurred and indistinct. Hank Quinlan is a good detective who doesn’t let a little thing like the Rule of Law stand between the criminal act and justice. He is opposed by Mike Vargas, a by-the-book cop who understands that Due Process sometimes does let the guilty go free: but better to free the guilty than convict one innocent man. This frisson creates a palpable tension as the murder investigation deepens: Quinlan planting evidence to convict a killer and Vargas trying to bring down this corrupt but respected cop. But Quinlan finally goes too far in helping frame Vargas’s wife for murder and his partner, Pete Menzies, is now faced with a brutal decision: to do what is moral and betray his friend…or dispose of Quinlan’s (citizen) cane and see an innocent punished. The desperate dialogue between two friends spans a bridge over troubled waters, but it all falls down into a murderous torrent, their lives swept away. But the blood on Quinlan’s hand can’t be washed away this time because it is innocent, he has now crossed a moral boundary and become what he most despises: a criminal guilty of murder. Quinlan was right of course, he did frame a guilty man, a man deserving of his punishment; a means to an end justified. It’s Tana who speaks Quinlan’s epitaph: “He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people.” (A+)

No comments: