Writing-directing-co-starring, Orson Welles’ final major-studio Hollywood production, a twisty police procedural crisscrossing a pair of Cal/Mex border towns with film noir stylings, is so darn entertaining, it’s hard to believe it tanked on release, dumped by Universal Pictures who ignored Welles’ detailed editing notes, releasing a reworked cut that made things harder to follow, and possibly more visually baroque. Even so, thousands of film fans eventually found the ‘pop’ masterpiece thru the faults, and in 1998, a Welles-worthy restoration, largely following his long dismissed editing memo (a remarkable document in its own right), revealed the film as even more of a knock-out. The story sets up a clash between Orson’s old-school detective (canny, corpulent, corrupt) & Charlton Heston’s principled Mexican narcotics official (dragged into a local murder investigation on his honeymoon). But when Welles gets caught planting evidence, he ties himself in with a drug-running Mexican criminal clan to fight off career-ending exposure. Wonderfully designed (who found these locations?); fabulously cast with an eye toward the absurd (look quick for uncredited turns from Joseph Cotten & Mercedes McCambridge); and gleefully shot in heart-of-darkness style by the notoriously grumpy Russell Metty; the film is a cornucopia morbid delights.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: No one in Hollywood knows how to cook! Note the opening shot where a mysterious hand sets one of those little plastic kitchen timers to trigger a bomb in three minutes. They turn the little dial exactly to three. No good, you need to go past the mark, and then turn it back to engage the spring with enough energy to run the mechanism. Otherwise, it’ll run out of ‘tick’ before going off. That poor little timer is used in a lot of films, always incorrectly.
DOUBLE-BILL: The tricky ending, with a hidden microphone and a shortwave recording device capturing a confession, is straight out of John Sturges’ THE PEOPLE AGAINST O’HARA/’51 which has Spencer Tracy in the Welles’ spot.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Everything about the reconstructed cut is an improvement. But the famous long opening shot sure is snazzy looking with the credits & Henry Mancini’s mood-setting score artfully placed on top. (See the original release version.) And speaking of having a look, Hitchcock must have taken a good long one at this, especially the motel scenes with Janet Leigh & Dennis Weaver, before making PSYCHO/’60.