Slow Sadness

Touch of EvilM Touch 1958

Theaters:  February 1958

Streaming:  October 2000

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  95 minutes

Genre:  Classics – Crime – Drama –  Film Noir – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  8.5/10

IMDB:  8.1/10

Amazon:  4.4/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  8.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.2/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Orson Welles

Written by:  Orson Welles (screenplay), Whit Masterson: aka Robert Wade and Bill Miller (book)

Music by:  Henry Mancini

Cast:  Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor

Film Locations:  US

Budget:  $829,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $2,247,465

A man runs through a parking lot in a small Mexican town along the US border carrying a small package, placing it in the trunk of convertible moments before the owner and driver, Rudy Linnekar (Jeffery Green) and his young girlfriend Zita (Joi Lansing) arrive.  With the bomb ticking in the trunk of the car, Linnekar slowly drives through the town, filled with tourists and locals enjoying the cool night, heading for the nearby US border and home.  As they are driving, they pass the strolling newly married couple of Mike Vargas (Heston), a Mexican drug cop, and his American wife Susie (Leigh). The car crosses the border into the US and explodes.

Captain Quinlan (Welles), an obese cop with a bum leg, walking with the aid of a cane, arrives to take over the investigation of bombing. He quickly surmises that Sanchez (Victor Millan), who is secretly married to Rudy Linnekar’s daughter Marcia (Joanna Cook Moore), is the prime suspect.  Quinlan’s partner Pete Menzies (Joseph Calleia) plants incriminating evidence in Sanchez’s apartment and he is arrested. Vargas knows that the evidence against Sanchez was planted and begins to investigate the bombing and Quinlan, while letting his wife spend her honeymoon alone in some cheap deserted hotel in the dry scrublands of the American southwest.

Welles loosely based the movie’s screenplay on a 1956 Red Badge Mystery serial novel, Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson. The crime novel slowly solves the mystery of who killed Rudy Linnekar by blowing up his house with dynamite. The murder is investigated by police officers Hank Quinlan and Leron McCoy along with an assistant district attorney.  The 2 cops quickly make an arrest of Ernest Farnum, who soon commits suicide, even though incriminating dynamite was found in the apartment of Linnekar’s future son-in-law Delmont Shayon.

Whit Masterson is a pseudonym for 2 authors: Robert Allison “Bob” Wade and H. Bill Miller.  The pair, good friends since the age of 12, wrote more than 30 novels in their lifetimes with at least 6 adapted for movies.  Two other well received movies adapted from their books, in addition to this movie, were the 1942 All Through the Night with Humphrey Bogart, and The Yellow Canary starring Pat Boone.

Orson Welles, director, writer, actor, producer, and occasional illusionist was born an entertainer.  Shakespeare and presenting visual interpretations of the classic books were his passions. His colossal talent spanned the stage, radio, and movies, bequeathing an artistic ensemble to the world that increases in stature every year. In 1938, Welles produced, directed, and acted in Caesar, an updated version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The play was a monumental success. In the same year he narrated Mercury Theater’s adaptation of  H. G. Wells’, The War of Worlds, bringing him instant fame or at least infamy. In 1941 Welles, wrote, produced, directed, and acted in his greatest gift to movie goers everywhere: Citizen Kane.  A critical success on opening but financially not too great, held back by the Hearst’s family distaste and advertising boycott of the movie. Its impact on the public, though, has increased over time and by 2017 it was considered the greatest film ever made. He is also considered the 2nd greatest director of all time, with only Hitchcock ranking above him.

A Touch of Evil was Welles’ last Hollywood movie and one of the last in the film-noir genre, at least in the era of Hitchcock, Wilder, and Huston.  It ranks as one of his finest. Filmed in black and white, his use of upward shots, long sequences, and garish, crowded scenes gives the movie a dark and sinister look, foretelling from the beginning an ending of bleakness and sorrow.

Welles and Dietrich steal the show.  They are the 800 pound gorillas among the lesser greats of Heston, Leigh, and Cotton.  Heston’s acting is worthy of his name and this movie but casting him as a Mexican is a head scratcher.  Every time he appears in a scene you have to think about why he is portraying someone he clearly isn’t.

A Touch of Evil expresses the shadows of our lives that we all try to suppress, not by standing in the light but hiding them in our dark lonely places. Quinlan always getting his man regardless the cost, Vargas forsaking his wife to play the good cop, crime bosses sinking lower, night watchmen to afraid to do the right thing.  A tale of crossroads, with the right and left forks leading to the same forlorn scene of heartache and grief.

This is a movie you need to add to your “Must Watch in My Lifetime” list.  It is a great film-noir movie consistently ranking as one of the top 100 movies of all time.

Westerns Redefined

Stagecoach  M Stagecoach 1939

Theaters:  February 1939

Streaming:  May 2010 (digitally restored)

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  96 minutes

Genre:  Action – Adventure – Classic – Drama – Romance – Western

els:  7.5/10

IMDB:  7.9/10

Amazon:  4.7/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics: 9.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.9/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:  2 Academy Awards

Directed by:  John Ford

Written by:  Dudley Nichols (screen play), Ernest Haycox (short story)

Music by:  Gerard Carbonara

Cast:  Claire Trevor, John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell, John Wayne, Andy Devine, George Bancroft, Donald Meek, Berton Churchill, Louise Platt

Film Locations:  Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah, US

Budget:  $531,374

Worldwide Box Office:  $1,103,757

A stagecoach, in 1880, carries 9 disparate members of the old west from Tonto in the Arizona Territory, through hostile Apache territory, to Lordsburg, New Mexico; all passengers with a story that needs telling.  Ringo Kid (Wayne) breaks out of jail to avenge his father’s and brother’s murder, a banker (Churchill) escaping his harping wife with ill-gotten gains, a mysterious southerner (Carradine) attracted to a pretty young lady passenger (Platt), a submissive whiskey salesman (Meek), a marshal (Bancroft) along to ride shotgun and return Ringo to prison, a prostitute (Trevor), and an alcoholic doctor (Mitchell), all compelled to Lordsburg by ghosts that don’t give a wit about the Apaches. They start off their trip in relative safety with a cavalry escort but lose it at the next town when the relief soldiers fail to show.  As they continue on their way to Lordsburg, tensions and troubles mount as the Apaches close in for the attack.

The movie is based on the 1937 Ernest Haycox short story, Stagecoach to Lordsburg, originally published as The Last Stage to Lordsburg in the 10 April 1937 issue of Colliers. Dudley Nichols, a frequent writer for John Ford movies, adapted the book for this movie.

John Ford hadn’t made a western since the 1920s. No one was making big budget westerns in the 1930s and no one wanted Wayne anywhere near a big production, especially in a starring role. Well Ford had an idea and a story that proved he was right and the experts could go teach their grandmothers to suck eggs. Ford resurrected the western, took it out of the kids’ Saturday matinée round-up, and gave the movie going public a good 30 years of great follow-up action movies involving horses and gunslingers. Oh, by the way, this movie made John Wayne the biggest name in Hollywood for decades to come. Artists are always a tough bunch to judge.

It is a rare movie when all the characters are cast just right.  Wayne the righteous bad guy-good guy, Meek the meek whiskey peddler, Trevor the conflicted prostitute; all fitting their roles like a cow hand’s wet leather glove.  Devine, along with Ken Curtis and Walter Brennan, defined the role of humorous sidekick, adding in the well oiled schtick to move the drama along. Carradine plays a good guy this time, although it is not apparent until much later in the movie whether he is a shady character or an honorable southern gentleman. Playing a drunk doesn’t get more realistic than Mitchell’s whimsical but competent doctor portrayal, for which he deservedly won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for.

This movie redefined westerns going into the 40s and 50s for the movie going public.  Not the best western every made but certainly in the top 10. Orson Wells is said to have watched this movie dozens of times to provide background and ideas for his Citizen Kane.  Watching this movie dozens of times in a short period is likely not good for your mental health but once a decade will remind you what a truly ground breaking film this was.

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