DVD Tuesday: When Charlton Heston met Orson Welles in praise of Touch of Evil one wild, sleazy ride through the darkness at the edge of border towns.

When you think Charlton Heston you think Ben-Hur, Planet of the Apes,, The Omega Man (the nuttier of two precursors to Will Smith's I Am Legend), The Ten Commandments and Soylent Green (spoiler alert: "Soylent Green is people!.

But one of my favorite Heston movies is one his less well known: The thriller Touch of Evil, directed by and co-starring Orson Welles, along with Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, Joseph Cotten and Zsa Zsa Gabor now that's a cast!

And it opens with one of the most justly famous tracking shots in movie history: A sinuous, 3 minute, 20 second glide through crowded streets of seedy Los Robles, following a white convertible en route to the US border with an ominous tick tick tick always audible through the clamor of ambient noise and Henry Mancini's ominously jazzy score.

Touch of Evil was designed to be a sleazy b-movie, but Welles turned it into a sleazy masterpiece. Heston plays celebrity narcotics investigator Miguel "Mike" Vargas, newly married to uber-gringa Susan (Leigh). They plan to honeymoon in Los Robles, the self-proclaimed "Paris of the Border," but just as they cross the US/Mexico checkpoint the first time they've been together in his homeland -- and share a kiss, that white convertible explodes.
The passengers were a wealthy American developer with extensive business connections in Los Robles and a floozie (the gloriously tawdry Joi Lansing); Vargas is drawn into the investigation headed by thoroughly corrupt, bigoted, obese Texas lawman Captain Hank Quinlan (Welles). Meanwhile, the brother of a drug kingpin Vargas arrested (and who will certainly go to jail if Vargas testifies at his trial) tries to intimidate Vargas by terrorizing Susan.

The story is pure pulp, but Welles' gloriously stylized compositions, editing and camera movement are sheer poetry, a symphony in contrasts: Claustrophobic interiors and agoraphobic exteriors, Welles' corpulent excess and the clean hard lines of Heston's face and limbs, sun-washed tourist attractions and the perversities that lurk in the shadows.

And who but Welles would have cast Heston as Mexican (he claimed he felt it would add interest to a dull, straight-arrow role) and Aryan icon Dietrich as the gypsy Tanya (though in Suspects David Thompson makes a thoroughly argument that Tanya is Amy Jolly, the saloon singer Dietrich played in Morocco, 25 years and countless miles of following her French Legionnaire lover through the African desert later) And Welles handed Tanya the film's most gloriously world-weary line: "What does it matter what you say about people?"

What indeed.

It doesn't matter whether you see the standard Touch of Evil or the restored 1998 Director's Cut: Either way, it's a treat.

Things to Consider:

What are your favorite Charlton Heston movies and why?

What does it take to elevate pulp material to something more enduring?

Casting against type can produce fascinating results or flat out disasters: Examples?

Send your movie questions to FlickChick;.

Hear Maitland on the weekly podcast TV Guide Talk.

See Maitland McDonagh and Ken Fox review this week's new flicks on the Movie Talk vodcast.

Previously in DVD Tuesday:


Bonnie and Clyde
When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth
Michael Clayton
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
Shoot 'Em Up
A Mighty Wind


It's a Wonderful Life
All About Eve
Sweet Smell of Success
Daughters of Darkness
The Crazies
Blade Runner
A Simple Plan
Taxi Driver
Hot Fuzz
Ace in the Hole
Eyes Without a Face
Citizen Kane
La Jetée
Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
Bob le Flambeur
Near Dark
Perfect Blue
Pan's Labyrinth
Les Girls
The Girl Who Knew Too Much
The Queen
Expresso Bongo
I'm Not Scared
Shocking Grindhouse Double Bill! - Scanners and The Candy Snatchers
Don't Look Now
Casino Royale
The Prestige
13 Tzameti
The Departed
Kiss and Make Up
Kiss Me Deadly
The Long Good Friday
What Alice Found
The Devil's Backbone
The Descent
The Devil Wears Prada
Pandora's Box
The Thief and the Cobbler
Panic in the Streets/Jack Palance Interview
The Pusher Trilogy
Sunset Blvd.
In Cold Blood