Touch of Evil – Hank vs Mike

Touch of Evil directed by Orson Welles (1958)

The setup :

After visiting an old acquaintance, Hank Quinlan accompanied by Pete Menzies joins Mike Vargas, the District Attorney and his assistant in a rundown industrial zone with oil derricks at the border of Mexico.

In the middle of the murder case, Hank and Mike are confronting each other’s police work styles. Hank’s frame and delivery takes precedence over his Mexican counterpart, isolated and in a defensive stance throughout the scene.

Visually :

When Hank’s in the frame, he’s often shot below the horizon line giving himself a higher ground, his build is emphasizing the contrast against all characters, there’s no doubt he’s the boss, even on foreign soil (“back to civilization” end line). And in 2 or 3 shots over the shoulder setups, he takes a large portion of the screen, always pressing Mike.

While the metallic structures from the oil derricks around them do help with staging, it also helps framing Mike away from the crowd.

Behind Hank’s back is a radiating palm tree, if these aren’t full blown laurels giving him an imperial stance, what else could that be ?

Takeway :

All in all, it’s a fairly static scene, with the exception of one shot (2e) where Mike Vargas tries to leave the group (pulled back by Hank’s “intuition”), yet staged with strong visual cues on top of snappy dialogues for added intensity

It was my second viewing and somehow wasn’t as stoked about it than last time years ago. Yet, for the time I believe it must have been quite revolutionary.

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