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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Monday (4/4/11) 10:18pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Movies:  Touch of Evil
TV:  <none>
Books:  <none>

Touch of Evil
This is Orson Welles' 1958 film about a murder investigation in a corrupt border town, considered by many to be the last great, classic noir.  Again, I'm watching it as part of my continued research for the film noir show(My show notes are posted here.)

This is actually my second time watching this film -- I first watched it in late 2008.  This time around I'm watching it, I hope, a stronger background in the genre.

What struck me most about this second viewing is how hurt Quinlan is.  Yes, he's a classic corrupt cop.  Yes, he's framing one guy after another over the course of his career, and he's trying to resolve this latest case the same way.  But he certainly doesn't *think* he's a villain -- he's just trying to put away criminals in the directest way he knows how -- and the movie hardly condemns him.  He cannily points out that he hasn't gotten rich off of graft, (something almost unheard of for high-level cops in noir), and in the end, he's right about Sanchez.

Quinlan abides by a reasonable set of rules; it's just that, as is often the case in noir, the rules don't happen to coincide with the laws.

It's also odd to see race so obviously foregrounded in a noir.  Apart from the brutally racist scene with the car-park attendant in The Killing, most every noir I've seen has had white people dealing with other white people.  Sure, there are class differences in every noir, but racism is another animal.

And yet, racism feels eerily at home in the genre, giving the city yet another source of tension and iniquity.  And it feels true to the genre that this movie will on the one hand set up Vargas as obviously virtuous and silently tut-tut Quinlan's grumblings about "I don't understand Mexican," and yet on the other hand exploit the white audience's own fears by having ominous-looking Mexican guys enter and surround a delicate-looking white woman in a nightdress.  There's something very noir-ish about so brazenly squeezing thrills and sanctimony from the same source.

And there's something equally noir-ish about how you can practically see the censors hauling the film back from the lines of good taste that it so clearly wants to cross.  The Mexican youths drug Susie, but... no, it was only with sodium pentathol.  Vargas nearly gets maimed with acid to the face, but... no, the kid misses.  The moments of real horror -- say, Susie waking up to see Grandi's strangled, pop-eyed face looking down on her -- are parcelled out very judiciously, so as to maximize both the goodwill of the censors and the impact on the viewers.

Of course, the frustrating thing about watching something like this is that you're immediately cowed by how high they've set the bar for you're aiming for in performance.

Well... okay, then.

For next time:  I'm still reading the deluxe edition of Y:  The Last Man, and I've also started in on The War for Late Night, Bill Carter's book about the whole Leno-Conan imbroglio (AKA "the Jaypocalypse").  I'm now watching Murder, My Sweet (more noir om nom nom) and I'm listening to an audiobook of Don't Think of an Elephant.

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Mood: [mood icon] contemplative · Music: none
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