What started out as a contractual obligation of Orson Welles grew into the creation of a finely directed and competently acted masterpiece of cinema history. Adapted from the book "Badge of Evil" this is a story of police corruption along the Mexican border. This film has everything! The opening sequence illuminates the flawless cinematography (this is the five minute tracking of the car), superb acting (Of course, Orson Welles and Charlton Heston are in the picture) and genre defining one liners that have become cinema history (the final word from Marlene Dietrich - need I say anymore?). This is film noir at its most bewitching. Savour every second from one of the greatest films from cinema's golden age.
The cast is terrific: Janet Leigh plays Heston's naïve bride, and Akim Tamiroff one of the town's major bad guys. It also has a number of interesting cameos (though if you blink you might miss some of them), including Joseph Cotton, Keenan Wynn, Dennis Weaver, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Mercedes McCambridge, and best of all, Marlene Dietrich, who looks up from her tarot cards to tell Welles "your future is all used up".
Russell Metty's cinematography is unique and innovative, and Henry Mancini's jazz score outstanding.
Peculiar and bizarre, this film needs more than one viewing to fully appreciate, and to sort out its complex plot of many crooked paths. Welles also wrote the script, and it is spoken in a realistic manner, with dialogue overlapping, and people talking at once.
Heston thankfully does not have accented English, but instead looks handsome with dark makeup and a mustache, on the other hand, Welles has a speech pattern that fits his seedy character, as he slurs and sputters through his words.
This is a stupendous, one-of-a-kind piece of filmmaking, now acknowledged as a classic noir.
DVD extras include Welles' memo, theatrical trailer, production notes, cast and filmmakers.
In this form, you can drink in the seedy sleazy ambience like few other films - it's peeling off the walls, you can almost smell it. Apart from Charlton Heston and Vivien Leigh, all the characters reek of stale sweat and corruption. This is archetypal film noir, shot in dense B&W, with atmosphere derived in huge part from the brilliant cinematography, camera angles, lighting, sets, music.
Everything Welles did here is magnificent, original and innovative, none more so than the opening shot: it lasts four minutes, during which the camera swoops around the Mexican border town, spying the bomb being placed in the car boot, then interplays the traffic junctions while Heston and Leigh walk towards the border. The car comes back into shot repeatedly then stops or turns off, before they all meet again at the border post. This is filmwork fashioned from sheer genius, setting the tone for the film without words. In fact, words can barely do it justice.
The plot might be termed good old-fashioned melodrama that would not be to every taste, though in the hands of a superb cast assembled here it could scarcely be performed any better. Not the stuff of an epic, but as a film constructed in the image of its director it ranks not far short of Citizen Kane. To be admired as much as enjoyed.
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