One of the landmarks of American cinema, Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958) plays tonight at the Castro Theatre at 7:00 pm.
Justly celebrated for the ways it combines the ridiculous — Welles’ grotesquely rotund figure, Charlton Heston in dark makeup as a Mexican detective, and Dennis Weaver’s bugging-out night shift motel manager — with the sublime — Welles’ direction, including the famous three and a half minute long opening tracking shot running under the titles — the film inspired a generation of filmmakers by making great cinema on a tiny budget and a two-bit script.
The opening tracking shot itself is a cultural reference point — remember Robert Altman’s homage in “The Player” even as the characters themselves refer to it? (“He set up the whole picture with that one tracking shot… My father was key grip on that shoot.”) But the whole film is stuffed full of delights: Heston in brownface exclaiming about an explosion on the border, “This could be very bad for us… for Mexico!” Janet Leigh as his wife, menaced by a drug-dealing biker gang. Marlene Dietrich as the faded proprietess of a bordertown speakeasy. Weaver frantically protesting, “I’m the night man!!” And Welles himself, grumbling, shuffling, sneering, waddling his way through the film. This is a great chance to see it on the big screen.
Touch of Evil plays at 7:00 pm at the Castro; the tone companion Wait Until Dark plays at 4:50 and 9:10.