The Touch of Evil is one of those films where a whole lot of stress could have been avoided if the main characters talked to each other more. Whenever you’re in a hostile territory but don’t want to confide in each other that things aren’t going well, that’s when trouble really brews. The movie is fairly serious but then throws in quite a few comedic moments as well so it can be tough to say what tone it is going for at times. This one isn’t one of the better gangster films even if I do give it props for having more unique scenery compared to most.
The movie starts with the main characters getting ready to leave the border town between Mexico and the United States until a car blows up in front of them. The main character Miguel works as a prosecutor and is in the middle of a big case involving a gangster group so he can’t leave now. This is the villains’ turf so in case they are involved he will have to look into this. His wife Suzie isn’t quite as pleased since they should be going on their honeymoon and unfortunately she is now being targeted by the villains. It starts off as pure intimidation but the longer she remains, the more that may begin to change. Can the main guy solve the case in time?
So right off the bat here is one of the problems. The mafia wastes no time in summoning Susie over to make some veiled threats and she takes it well in talking tough back to them. My problem is after leaving she doesn’t tell Miguel what just transpired. I feel like you have to tell him so you’re both on the same page about the fact that the danger has arrived and it isn’t just a possible thing that could happen anymore. Later on they do this again by dropping off a threatening letter for her and she thinks about telling Miguel but opts not to. She had even been planning to leave for the American side of the border but decided not to after the threat. Telling Miguel could have caused him to play things differently.
He ends up dropping her off at a motel which is where she said she would stay but unfortunately it’s run by the villains so she ends up falling for their trap which ends up not going well as she is drugged and framed for doing this herself. I would argue that Miguel and even the cop who dropped her off should have been smarter about this though. Leaving her at a note like that just does not seem safe at all and of course it wasn’t. Even if the villains didn’t run the place it feels like that would not have been a particularly good idea.
Another complication here is Hank, a police captain who is determined to find the culprits for the bombing no matter what. The problem is that he will use less than legal means of getting a culprit and he always gets a culprit, even if he has to make up some proof. Hank is definitely very corrupt and while the end of the film tries to give him some credit with his instincts, you still can’t take the law into your hands when you’re an officer like that. The instant he did this he was definitely setting himself up for a lot of trouble. He makes for a good villain but it’s hard to see him as anything more than that no matter what his intentions were. I can’t say I felt sympathetic for him at all.
The most random plot here is the night custodian working at the motel. He is extremely afraid for his life the entire time he appears and so everyone pushes him around. I suppose he has probably seen a lot of things since he started working here but all of his actions just felt very exaggerated. The movie could have stood to tone this character down a bit to make him more realistic. It can be fine to have a character who completely clashes with the tone of the movie of course but at the end of the day this guy just wasn’t very funny so that immediately defeated the whole purpose of his character. Someone like this would have a better chance of succeeding if he was not related to the serious events in the movie.
In general I think the film had an issue with balancing the comedic and serious bits. The villains for example appear as comic relief for decently large chunks of the film as they run around and get into trouble but then they suddenly get rather serious near the end when they drug Suzie or when they nearly melt the main character with a vial of acid. So the movie was really all over the place in a lot of ways and maybe all the terrible decisions that the heroes made was supposed to play into that somehow. Like you’re meant to realize they are bad decisions although I never got that implication from the movie so I don’t know about that.
Overall, The Touch of Evil has an interesting setup with a crime at the border so both sides want a piece of the action. The place definitely wasn’t the safest with a gang running around but at least by the end of the film that group will be a lot weaker. The main characters could have handled all of this a lot better than they did though and I feel like some of the villains really got off completely free. We never saw the whole mafia group get arrested after they attacked Suzie and that would have made the ending a lot more complete. The atmosphere is on point but in the end this film really falls in the middle on the spectrum of good and bad movies. A better ending could have helped it rise up.