Juarez, Border Towns and 'A Touch of Evil'

Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - 10:38 AM

The 1958 film “Touch of Evil” was a work of genius from Orson Welles. His character of the corrupt and essentially racist American Police Captain Hank Quinlan was one of the truly evil characters in all of cinema. On the other hand, Charlton Heston’s role as Mexican diplomat, Miguel Vargas who is married to an American bombshell “Susie,” played by actress Janet Leigh, was a laughable piece of Hollywood casting seen from today. Actor Benicio del Toro might be more credible or even Javier Bardem if they ever remake “Touch of Evil”. But the curious power and absurdity of “Touch of Evil,” which was set on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, is that it tells a story which mirrors the brutality we see on the border today. “Touch of Evil” could have been set in Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas; and novelist, Whit Masterson might have loved the name “Murder City” for Juarez. But that name is more of a descriptive fact than a flight of fancy today.

It’s funny that the movie “Touch of Evil” is all about a border zone in the 1950’s that was drenched in a sinister undercurrent of evil. There is enough menace everywhere that the title of the film might more correctly be something like “Touch of Good.” We spoke with a man in his seventies this morning who grew up in El Paso and, as a boy, would go back and forth across the border for adventures free of the fear of “murder city.” There was no undercurrent of evil and no wicked American from El Norte like Hank Quinlan.

Jesus Ochoa described El Paso and Juarez as a single city in his experience. The border itself was the fiction in the days Jesus Ochoa was a teenager. Today Juarez is soaked in the blood of the Mexican drug wars. Weapons are everywhere and the plotline of “Touch of Evil” is like a fairytale compared to the reality of Juarez today. In Murder City today you would find no Charlton Heston. Instead of a fat drunken police captain you would see U.S. Army National guardsmen, and in Mexico, the drug lords are better armed than the government and police. The challenge today is finding the “Touch of Good” in Murder City. Perhaps in our conversation with lifelong El Paso resident Jesus Ochoa and his daughter we may have found that touch of good in their memories of a place changed forever.

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