When compared to Quinlan, Vargas’ is more straightforwardly heroic. He is shown to be a man of high professional integrity and impartiality. Even Quinlan’s suggestion that he is trying to defend Sanchez for he is a compatriot is a view lacking in merit. The lighting employed on these two characters is skilful. Their ardor of their inner-world is illustrated through the application of lighting and shadows at odd angles. But where the technique succeeds, the script lets down. For example,
“Charlton Heston is wooden and unbelievable as a Mexican narcotics investigator on honeymoon with his wife (Janet Leigh, struggling with a script that requires her to act brainlessly throughout).There is little that’s credible, either, in the crude way Heston’s adversary, a corrupt police chief (Welles), frames a suspect for murder, or pursues Heston with unbridled bigotry and incompetence.” (“Orson Classic Has Wooden,” 1999)
Coming back to the positives, one of the best scenes in Touch of Evil is the long tracking shot at the beginning of the film. The 3-minute shot tracks the series of little events leading up to the bomb explosion in the car. The hustle and bustle of national border security creates an element of tension throughout. The planting of the bomb inside the car adds further intrigue to the atmosphere. That the car should brush so closely to Mr. and Mrs. Vargas on several occasions plays on the nerves of the audience. It was a dramatic sequence and sets the agenda for suspense in the rest of the film. The use of sound and shade in this sequence is of particular import, as the night setting is suggestive of the illegal underbellies thriving in the US-Mexico border. For instance, the entire gamut of traffic sounds enhances the appearance of chaos. Likewise the street-lights, car head-lights, flashy neon hoardings and inviting cabaret entrances perfectly capture the glitzy yet shady world of international transit. It illustrates how technically adept Welles was as a filmmaker.
In terms of application of focus and perspective as cinematographic devices, Welles uses them sparingly. The shots where they appear prominent are the ones in the outdoor – the coverage of the Motel where Mrs. Vargas stays is a good example. The arid and sparse landscapes that lead up to the motel is typical of the southern border. More importantly, Welles is able to create a sense of desolation in his depiction of the Motel’s locality. This much is demanded by the plot itself, but Welles also makes a sociological comment on the nature of drug racketing. It is in the motels of Uncle Joe Grandi that much of the ‘evils’ alluded by the title happens. By use of perspective in showcasing the environs of the eerie and remote motel, Welles is symbolically portraying the nature of drugs, crime and other evils.
Speed is another element that Welles puts to optimum use. Touch of Evil, despite carrying all the markers of a thriller, surprisingly allows for deliberation and thought. This is certainly how Welles had meant it to be, as the restored version of the film readily shows. While the plot moves along on conventional lines, fitting with the genre, there is enough room for the audience to reflect. The late revival interest in the film is partly attributable to this facet. The film is foremost an exposition on human emotion. But Welles eschews the formula of a drama to achieve this end. He instead manufactures dramatic elements in the particular situations that the characters find themselves in. It is a masterly conception on the part of the filmmaker. The discerning viewer, with the aid of reviewing the film, would be able to appreciate these layered dimensions of the film.