M O D E R N I T Y   A N D   T H E   M A N I A C
P a g e   T w o :   J a n e t   L e i g h   i n   T o u c h   o f   E v i l
" I   w a s   j u s t   l i s t e n i n g   t o   y o u   b r e a t h e , "   s a y s   S u s i e   t o   h e r   h u s b a n d .
A R T I C L E   B Y   R I C H A R D   A R M S T R O N G

In Touch of Evil and Psycho, the icon came into her own. These films painfully chart specifically modern degradation. In Touch of Evil we witness the downfall of the All-American Girl at a key moment in Leigh's evolution from ingénue to star. As Harvey puts it, Susie Vargas "is no campus-queen sweater girl, but a courageous, self-possessed young woman. On her honeymoon." "Susie"; the accessibility is piquant, almost gooey. But if in early scenes her coiffed blonde hair--check that quiff--and brimming confidence, suggest the brash American on a spree--"on the trail of a chocolate soda"--by the end of the film the young bride has been molested, drugged, and stripped bare.
In the movie's early scenes, Susie is composed and confident.
[click photo for multiple photos from this scene]
After she's abducted, Susie undergoes various indiscretions.
[click photo for multiple photos from this scene]

While her husband, star narcotics investigator Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston), spends much of the film not quite knowing what to do with Susie--where she should stay, what she should do, how they can be together--the Grandi punks investigate Susie thoroughly. Touch of Evil and Psycho both toy with male anxiety about what this clean and blooming young woman is like underneath. The Night Man's nerves only jangle louder at the proximity of her body. But while, as Harvey realizes, Welles tempers this curiosity with a certain admiration for her American chutzpah, only implying her degradation as a side issue, Hitchcock is painfully aware of what lies beneath, his film hysterically dramatizing the inability to really see. Welles and his cinematographer Russell Metty make much of vertical spaces--pillars, glowering figures--and in her element Susie becomes another vertical shape, her long legs encased in a tight skirt finished with pencil pleats, her feet in high heels.
"Let me tell you something," Susie admonishes Grandi.
[click photo for larger version]

The only break in the vertical program are those breasts, a rack jutting as emphatically as her rejoinder to Akim Tamiroff's little Mexican blowhard Grandi--"Yeah? YEAH?" she shouts as she wags her finger. "Let me tell you something: You've been seeing too many gangster movies." It could be Doris Day admonishing a spoilt nephew. (The years have only diminished Grandi, but the terrorism of Los Robles, the sense we get of American innocents out on a limb in foreign hot spots, is surely even more poignant now). By the end of Touch of Evil, the thrusting modern girl will be naked, prostrate, and out of her head on heroin… or something… (according to the fondest fantasies of some in the audience).

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