Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil recognizes the obdurate flaw of attempting to stabilize and control boundaries and at the same time marginalizing the already marginalized; making this film a suitable text for a post colonial discourse. In one particular scene that depicts the interaction between Quinlan and Sanchez with the presence of various other characters, we are subjected to an unpleasant interview that soon turns from being verbal to even physical. Sanchez is harassed for speaking in a different tongue, belonging to another race and most importantly for coming from a land that is not America. It is due to the recognition of Sanchez’s identity as an outsider or in postcolonial terms an “other”, that makes him a vulnerable subject. According to Homi Bhabha, “Knowledge of the colonizer thus becomes power over them [colonized] and their visibility to the colonizer leaves them powerless” (Fuller, 2016).
The scene takes place in a compact space inside a house, yet the frame accommodates several characters at once and it is the positioning that indicates the significance of those characters. The use of shadows to represent blurred lines of power and culture is another extraordinary technique found in the scene. As Sanchez struggles to introduce himself, Marcia is escorted out of the room, leaving the former on his own. At this point, everyone else in the room is looking down on Sanchez as he struggles to make a point. Every time Sanchez moves from one extreme corner to the other, it illustrates his position as the ‘other’. His identity as a Mexican and his occupation as a shoemaker is questioned; along with being slapped for talking in Spanish. Vargas (standing on the extreme right side) offers to listen, as he happens to judge the situation as someone who is familiar with Sanchez’s language and tries to give him the benefit of the doubt, unlike the others (positioned on the extreme left side). Quinlan’s menacing presence in every frame compliments his character perfectly well as he continues his domination in the room. Vargas questions the ambiguity concerning the dynamites, but is soon put down by Quinlan as he says, “It’s only human you’d want to come to the defence of your fellow countrymen”. Quinlan’s presence and actions in the film elucidate the hypocrisy of Anglo superiority. He goes on to say – “he can talk Hindu for all the good it’ll do to him”.
This scene only heightens the sense of alienation and dislocation in the film. The term border itself is a constant reminder of demarcating what lies on the other side, especially for someone like Sanchez or even Vargas. “Symbolically, one is constantly crossing the borders of good, evil, logic and sanity… If border towns do bring out the worst in countries, perhaps then, they are metaphors for what those countries really are” (Krueger, 1972). For Welles, it is the border town that manifests disparate ideologies for the characters within the film, and the class contest between various terrains.
- Fuller, S. (2016) The US-Mexico border in American cold war film
- Krueger, E.M. (1972) ‘“Touch of Evil”: Style expressing content’ In: Cinema Journal 12 (1) pp.57–63.