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Touch of Evil: Some Kind Of Man

By Karel Segers

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Right after its European premiere at the Brussels World Expo '58, the classy French film mag Les Cahiers du Cinema labeled Orson Welles' gorgeous film noir an 'instant classic'. I love its moody atmosphere, its exotic setting of the 1950’s underworld on the Mexican/American border, and its bold cinematography. The use of distorting wide-angle lenses stays far from the more geometrically designed Citizen Kane, and comes closer to something as modern as Gilliam’s Brazil. My appreciation for the film has certainly nothing to do with Charlton Heston’s performance… A far more interesting character - and acting style - is that of Hank Quinlan, the morally flawed cop played by Welles himself. This movie moment is about a scene just before Quinlan’s demise.


Touch of Evil enters conversation mostly because of its impressive single-take travel-crane opening shot, although few people know that an even longer take appears halfway the film. I was already a big fan of the original 1958 studio release of Touch of Evil, and when I viewed the virginal print of the restored version at the 1998 Rotterdam Film Festival, the picture shot to the top of my film favorites.


Quinlan’s morality may be twisted; his choices spring from the pain of losing his wife in a dramatic backstory that attributes him with a complex humanity. Ultimately, it makes us empathise with him more than with Heston’s fairly bland Jim Vargas. Welles plays Quinlan with spectacular verve and he once said “I’d rather have a murderer be free than have the police arrest him by mistake.” Does this mean he stands with Vargas, on the side of the law and he detests cops like Quinlan? His answer: “Morally I find them detestable - morally, not humanly…”


The character of prostitute/clairvoyant Tanya sees this humanity within Hank. Shortly before the credits roll, she will conclude “He was some kind of man… What does it matter what you say about people?” Welles had created Tanya for Marlene Dietrich - one of her final roles of a career spanning nearly sixty years – and the movie moment featured in the original screenplay, but Welles didn’t think it carried the weight he wanted. He added a scene earlier in the film to set up the relationship between Hank and Tanya. Now, her final words to Hank during our movie moment carry an overwhelming emotional resonance.


We see how Hank Quinlan is unknowingly betrayed by his best friend Menzies, who chooses justice over friendship. Next, during his last visit to Tanya, he asks her about his future. She replies, with intense sadness because of the terrible state of her friend in his final moments: “Your future is all used up. Why don’t you go home?” No spoiler has ever created greater emotional anticipation, let alone a spoiler within the movie itself.


About Karel Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst, script editor and producer with experience in rights acquisition, script development and production. His screenwriting classes have trained writers in Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and his clients include international award-winning filmmakers as well as three Academy Award nominees. Karel is the founder of The Story Department and!, and he ranks in the world's Top 10 of most influential people for screenwriting on Twitter.


Screenwriting Article by Karel Segers

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