Touch of Evil: Why You Shouldn't Rush to Judge the Quality of a B-Movie

Touch of Evil: Why You Shouldn’t Rush to Judge the Quality of a B-Movie

Some would argue that “Touch of Evil ” is the real masterpiece given to moviegoers by Orson Welles, and I am a part of that. The fame of “Touch of Evil” begins with its remarkable opening sequence, which is shot without a single cut and takes place for more than three minutes.

Touch of Evil (1958)
Touch of Evil (1958)

Many of the most important characters are introduced during this justly famous three-minute-long uninterrupted take, and the plot of the entire movie is quite literally derived from the explosive climax of the scene. The camera is in constant movement, and Welles, who got his start in radio, remember, makes brilliant use of sound editing. The lack of studio executives to recognize the brilliance of the use of sound to convey the story as much as the use of the visual elements of cinema is yet another highlight in the long string of examples of how movie studio executives failed to recognize the genius of Orson Welles. The hacks that placed the accounting department ahead of all the creative departments at the studio corrupted the enjoyment of “Touch of Evil” for most of its existence through a recut that placed a theme song over the opening sequence.

The rest of the movie is a lesson in filmmaking technique: one could well argue that “Touch of Evil ” makes more effective use of overlapping dialogue, psychologically suggestive camera angles, and camera placement than not only ” Citizen Kane” but any other movie directed by Orson Welles but, just possibly, any other movie ever made. What can sometimes seem like a flashy piece of showmanship in Welles’ first masterpiece–I’m talking “Citizen Kane” here–is more artistically integrated into the thematic thrust of this crime film. “Touch of Evil” is anything but easygoing for those raised on several generations of crime dramas on TV. You have to pay attention to what is going on because the plot is multifaceted, and there is no psychologist who shows in the last reel to explain all that has gone before, like the movie with which it so oddly shares such a strange vibe, “Psycho.” Those who have watched British crime shows should have a much easier time.

What is most astonishing about “Touch of Evil” is that it is, by definition, created by those guys at movie studios who placed the accounting department ahead of everything else, something that had come to be known as a B-movie. We think of the B-movie as being a low-budget affair with has-been stars and low production values, but technically, the term B-movie really just refers to the movie deemed to be less attractive to potential moviegoers when paired as a double feature. Among the so-called A-movies with which “Touch of Evil” was paired was Hedy Lamarr’s last film, “The Female Animal.”

Among the other A-movies that screened before “Touch of Evil” at theaters offering moviegoers two movies for the price of one could be found not just one, but two movies starring Marlon Brando. “The Young Lions” was the only time that Brando and Montgomery Clift appeared on screen together. “Sayonara” won four of the ten Oscars for which it was nominated. By contrast, “Touch of Evil” was not nominated for a single Academy Award, yet few would dare argue that “Sayonara” was in any possible way the superior example of filmmaking.

“Touch of Evil” is hard representative example and far from being the only example, but little room for argument exists that it is quite likely the the best proof available that you should not not judge a B-movie by its status on a double bill.

Author Gwen

Gwen is a freelance artist and writer for film, advertising, corporate projects, and web media. She feels his expertise in the entertainment industry provides a unique opportunity to engage the public through real-life stories and over a decade of experience and knowledge.