Orson Welles did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Hank Quinlan in Touch of Evil.
Touch of Evil opens with a bomb exploding that kills two people in a car right on the border leading it to be investigated by a Mexican detective who happened to be crossing the border with his wife Vargas (Charlton Heston) and a group of Americans lead by detective Hank Quinlan played by the director of the film Orson Welles. Perhaps it is rather obvious that Welles directed, other than because it is a great film, with the extremely memorable entrance Quinlan gets in the film. The scene is being investigated by the other officials with a car driving up with a dramatic close up to reveal the larger than life Hank Quinlan as he emerges from the car instantly inquiring about the case. Welles instantly takes hold of the screen which he will for every other scene in the film as well pretty much every scene he is not in as well. Hank Quinlan is a great character and Welles obviously will not waste this opportunity.
Orson Welles's performance is great in making Quinlan extremely memorable in every regard starting with the physical portrayal. Welles is absolutely spent in the part, and it is something to behold to be sure. His makeup is terrific to being with but Welles goes far past that with the way he plays the part. Welles gives Quinlan a lumbering walk due to Quinlan's limp as well as his size. Welles truly wears the weight the weight in this performance as he shows that Quinlan really even has some trouble breathing due to his condition as a man. Quinlan been through a lot and you can see that right in Welles's face as he suggests that type of damage that Quinlan has taken through his life. Welles is terrific in giving us the history of the man without needing to say at all as we see that Quinlan has been through some bad things. Welles's whole creation is an amazing depiction of a man who is basically decaying.
Hank Quinlan is a very early example of the sort of character later played by the likes of Woody Harrelson, Denzel Washington, Ray Liotta an many others which is the lawman who perhaps has become too good at his job. Welles is terrific because the fact that Quinlan seems like a walking corpse at times is in no way reflected in his portrayal of Quinlan as he proceeds as a detective. Welles commands without question in these scenes as in his eyes and his way about the investigation scenes it is clear that Quinlan is quickly deciphering the clues of the case. The whole dynamic is a difficult one as Welles shows without question that Quinlan is a man of so many vices physically, but Welles brings such a honest and earned confidence in his portrayal of Quinlan as a detective. Welles makes what seems like an inconsistency in Quinlan completely believable as realizes both sides of the complicated man.
One of the most important aspects of Welles's performance is that he wears the past of Quinlan just as well as he wears the present state of the man. Welles's has a particularly wonderful scene when Quinlan goes and visits an old friend/fortune teller Tanya (Marlene Dietrich). Welles is great in this scene as there is such a sense of nostalgia in the joyous expression seen upon Quinlan face as he seems to remembering the good old times in the moment. Welles is great by suggesting in this moment the better man that Quinlan once was, and actually does try to remind himself of this. Welles makes Quinlan incredibly interesting as character because he honestly creates a sense of tragedy within the man. His Quinlan's is not just a standard corrupt cop by any means at all. No Welles makes Quinlan a far more fascinating character, by showing us a man who was once a good man capable of greatness but has lost his way.
Quinlan is forced to only become worse though after Vargas catches Quinlan planting evidence in the house of the man he believes has committed the bombing that opens the film. Welles's is very effective in the last act of the film by believably moving Quinlan to an even darker place once Vargas threatens basically his entire career as an officer of the law. Quinlan starts drinking again, one vice he had given up, and plots to try to frame Vargas's wife in a crime to escape Vargas's inquiries. Welles makes these scenes absolutely convincing by showing the way Quinlan's basically losing himself all the more as he slowly becomes more drunk, and gives in to his negative qualities all the more. Quinlan seemed spent physically from the beginning, but Welles moves on to make Quinlan spent mentally as well as he creates a sense of desperation and even despair that allows Quinlan to do some truly unforgivable things.
Welles's gives such a fantastic performance here. Hank Quinlan in lesser hands may have just been a one note crummy villain, that we simply applauded at his demise at the end of the film. That is not the case through Welles's work here. Welles certainly brings the needed menace to the part, and as a villain his Quinlan is an extremely memorable one. He's not just a villain though because of how well Welles realizes a modicum of goodness in the man. The final scenes of the film actually are quite moving and Welles brings a certain poignancy to them despite Quinlan getting his comeuppance for his evil. The reason being that Welles is able to make the tale of Quinlan demise of a man who slowly wastes away all of his once great potential both physically, mentally and morally. Welles's performance is a brilliant and powerful piece of work that matches his equally exceptional direction of the film.