I found myself watching Touch of Evil again last night--the movie feels sort of like a kitchen cabinet that's sprung open to spew an endless quantity of clattering pots and pans, in a good way. There's not a moment in the movie that feels safe, Janet Leigh always feels a second away from peril, always watched when she thinks she's alone, yet she's a lot feistier than most movie girls at the time, seemingly actually intimidating the mob boss before the situation seems to make her feel like a frightened kitten again.
There's a feeling like watching a complicated routine of circus acrobats--it's this feeling of things not stopping, of threats always transforming, always present, that gives the movie its exceptionally sinister feel. Not just the famous long takes, but the overlapping dialogue and just the fact that we barely catch our breath between the moment when we think maybe Quinlan's planted evidence and the moment Grandi tries to shake him down for it.
Every time I watch the movie, I appreciate Quinlan a little more. There's maybe the faintest bit of horror in him when he sees Susie naked and drugged as part of a scheme to smear her husband and clear Quinlan's reputation. But the emotional calluses quickly reassert their supremacy. I like that mostly the only assurances we get that Quinlan was once a good man come second hand, from people who knew him years ago. It enhances the impression of him as a ghost of himself--just a ghost maybe except for his evident, incessant pain.
And Marlene Dietrich as the cool fortune teller seems somehow to embody the simultaneous, functioning contradiction of sympathy and apathy of nature.