Many people view “Touch of Evil” as the end of film noir as a genre
Most of this has to do with the films timing, by 1958 film noir was ready for an ending, and who better than Orson Wells to cap it off. When viewing this film it is easy to see its film noir traits, but even more interesting is watching how Wells guides beyond typical noir. This movie is full of scenes that contain film noir characteristics, so I’ve narrowed them down to the most important or strongest film noir techniques utilized by Well’s.My personal favorite film noir technique is the use of the single light bulb.
The lighting in effect is very bare, and usually this light source will swing from where it’s hanging to create the movement of shadow and light across a characters face. This shot was most noticeable when Quinlan is leaving the bar (I think) and he pauses underneath the bull head. It appears almost to foreshadow his fate, by juxtaposing the large man with a stuffed bull.There is another barren bulb shot when Suzy is lured to the Uncle’s place (early in the film.
At this stage of the film we are still unaware who all of these people are, but due to the lighting effects we see Suzy and the men go from light to dark very quickly. The shot never allows us to get a good look at all of the characters, by keeping shadows on part of their faces at all times. This brings the same uncertainty that the character is feeling to the audience. This film also contains the film noir standard for the shady detective. But, in this film we see two of these characters equally fight for the screen.When discussing the auteur characteristics of Well’s and this movie you would first look how he uses two coinciding detectives instead of just one.
I haven’t seen much in the Film Noir genre, but this seems to go beyond the normal film noir standard. Usually you have the shady detective, who is against all odds, the good and the bad. This Detective usually has a very strong woman playing alongside him, the femme fatal. In “Touch of Evil” Well’s takes two detectives Vargas and Quinlan.
Vargas has a beautiful American woman, she appears the ideal bride.Quinlan has a strong, almost man-like bar keep, who isn’t even quite his. They begin the film divided by jurisdiction, and Well’s just works from there. I would also argue that neither Vargas nor Quinlan (especially Quinlan) are very likeable. Quinlan is not likeable for the apparent fact that he plants evidence, but even Vargas is tough to like because he leaves his poor helpless bride to dry in basically enemy territory.
Vargas seems like the guy you’re supposed to pull for, but you see him lose total control of reality, and basically just focus on his personal vendetta.This also goes against the norm for film noir. Usually you have the embattled detective against all odds, and even though the viewer sees he has done some wrong we still pull for him. In other words we accept the lesser of two evils, or the necessary evil. The films reflection of its time is hard for a viewer of my age to locate.
My first inkling is to point to a possible connection between Quinlan-Vargas and U. S. -U. S. S. R.
Two men are forced to work together to fight a common enemy, crime.In the case of the U. S. -U. S.
S. R. it was Germany. This relationship has difficulties cooperating for the common good and in the end they turn out to be the greatest of enemies.
My next inkling would be the fear on the home front. Our susceptibility on our large boarders probably had many Americans scared. Maybe it displays following WWII and entering the cold war we didn’t trust anybody. I would also like to point to the end of “black film” coming just prior to Kennedy’s presidency, as if Americans were ready for the light in more than one way.