Touch of Evil: An Analysis

Touch of Evil: An Analysis


The film Touch of Evil (1959,Orson Welles) is about an investigation revolving around a car bomb explosion that happened on the American side of the U.S. and Mexico boarder. Mexican DEA agent Mike Vargas and American police captain Hank Quinlan lead the investigation and bump heads from the beginning. As the investigation gets deeper Vargas believes Quinlan has been planting evidence and looks into it only to find out his suspicions were true. I believe the movie is about the different sides of people, the good and the bad, and the formal elements of cinematography work along with other cinematic techniques to create the meaning in Touch of Evil.

The very first scene in the film is a crane shot that is about four minutes long. In those four minutes it tells you a lot about the film and what to expect. The crane shot is very smooth and controlled through out take but after the car explodes in a sea of flames the camera switches to a hand held approach where the shots are very shaky and all over the place. This helps to create meaning to the movie because as you watch, particularly Orson Welles character captain Quinlan, you notice that although at first he seems like a very looked up to person, he is an alcoholic who plants evidence to get people arrested. There is this conflict within the characters and this scene is an early representation of the conflict between control and chaos.

Although I feel most of the film was shot from low camera angles as if the viewer is looking up at the actors there is a scene where captain Quinlan is seen from a high angle. In the scene where Quinlan is talking with Uncle Joe Grandi he gets poured a shot of bourbon even though he had said prior that he had quit drinking and switched to candy bars. After he takes the first swig of bourbon there is a shot of him from a high camera angle as well as the camera zooming out on him. This shot shows how small he feels at that time, also maybe shame for falling off the wagon. In most if not all scenes with Quinlan I feel he takes up most of the frame if not all of it and in this one scene he is small in comparison to the room and that helps create the feeling of degradation or humility.

The camera angles worked with lighting, which is an aspect of the mise-en-scene of the film in a way to show the idea of balance, opposites, conflict, and clash. A lot of the shots that the characters faces filled most of the frame were shot from angles that allowed their face to be either completely covered or partially covered in shadow. In the scene where the chief, the DA, and Quinlan are in the elevator after Quinlan was accused of framing people by Vargas his face is completely covered in shadow. This shows to me that he is feeling shame or he is avoiding the truth. Most of the film has these really dark and heavy shadows that are almost representative of the film, which is about truth and justice, which is black and white, there is no middle or grey area.

These are only a few of the many examples where elements of cinematography worked with other cinematic techniques to create meaning to the movie. The film shows how everything has a reason and that although it grabs your attention there is also meaning behind it. Everything from the camera angels and lighting to the way the camera moves and composition all work together harmoniously to create the meaning to the movie and grab the audience’s attention.


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