on November 20, 2000
Generally considered as the ultimate Film Noir (and the last film of the genre), TOUCH OF EVIL is certainly one of the most macabre, bizarre poignant films ever produced in Hollywood. The director Orson Welles is of course the man who made CITIZEN CANE, but many Welles affectionados such as Peter Bogdanovich actually consider TOUCH OF EVIL better than KANE; as a matter of fact the best film Welles has ever directed.
Welles' bravula mise en scene, with the help of Russel Metty's startling black-and-white lighting and stunning camera movement, transform Venice, California into a chaotic frontier town between the US and Mexico. Charlton Heston, often refereed to as the most wooden actor in American cinema, gives a performance of his life as a Mexican cop. His casting may sound funny, but please forget that it's the same guy who played BEN HUR and Moses in the TEN COMMANDMENTS watching this movie then his highly energetic, rather over-the-top performance is actually convincing, especially as opposed to Welles' deliciously vicious portrayal of a corrupted American cop. It was actually Heston who suggested Universal that Welles would not only act in this film but also direct it, so you should give him some credit. Janet Leigh plays Heston's all-American wife "from Philadelphia", and is also quite marvelous in the way she turns out to be something else that we first think she is. With Hitchcock's PSYCHO and Anthony Mann's THE NAKED SPUR, this is probably her best performance. Metty's contrasty black-and-white photography also makes her very beautiful. She looks always better in blacho and white than in color, don't you think so?
This unorthodox casting works, because the film is a bigger than life caricature. It is often unbelievably funny indeed, which makes the viewer unconfortable because the thematic matter treated in this film is certainly not a humorous one. Of course that was Welles' intention, to challenge and provoke the audience. The magnificent supporting cast including Welles' favorite actors Ray Collins and Joe Cotten (from the Mercury Theatre and CITIZEN KANE) and Akim Tamirof hightens the caricature nature of the film. Joseph Caleia who plays Welles' side-kick proves to be a marvelous actor, one of the best performance in the entire Welles filmography (that is, from another actor than Orson himself). The dark hummour of the film reaches one of the darkest, poignant criticism about justice and how the idea is executed in reality. How much is it allowed for a police officer to execute justice, what is the thin line between justice and the abuse of justice that leads to fascism and a police state? This important question in our modern society is the theme Welles attacks in this film. But as in most of Welles great achievments, the political/social concerns turns out to be only one aspect of the story. It also becomes deeply deeply emotional in the way it becomes a personal moral conflict as well.
There used to be two versions of the film. The one hour and a half theatrical released version and the nearly two hours restored version. Though the longer version includes shots that were not done by Welles and Metty, the story is more comprehensible and Welles often proclaimed that he preferred the longer one (it was Universal who made the retakes and made the longer version, and why they did not released this one is a big mystery). But in the early 90's, a memo by Welles suggesting re-editing the 110 minutes version was discovered. So this so-called newly restored version (which should be called a re-construction since this version never existed; a great injustice that Welles was not allowed to touch the footage he himself had directed) was made, which is now on this DVD; with a beautiful digital wide-screen transfer that captures the deep blacks, menacing shadows and brilliant whites of Russel Metty's cinematography.
The heaviest changes are made on the sequence that you might have imagined no re-editing could be done; the celebrated 3 minutes long take which opens the film. This newly reconstructed version (and Welles' memo reproduced as a supplement of this DVD) confirms one important aspect of Welles' works that he was almost obsessive about, but few critics have been noticing; his close attention in the use of sound. You can also notice his obbsession about making a film that sound distinctively different from conventional movies by listening to the audio commenatary by Bogdanovich on THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI-DVD (and reading the huge book of Welles-Bogdanovich interview edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum THIS IS ORSON WELLES; check the amazon.com bookstore!).
Some TOUCH OF EVIL fanatics may regret that the famous Henry Manicini's opening theme music is now gone, but one has to admit that in the way Welles envisioned, the opening long take becomes far more powerful. As a stylish echnical tour-de-force as it is, the opening shot has now an almost documentary feeling about it, so immediate and raw, which obviously must have been the touch that Welles intended in this picture.
Though there are not too many obvious changes made in what you see from the former restored version (except that most of the explanatory re-takes done by Harry Keller are mostly gone now), what you hear is very different and the atmosphere you get from the entire film is now something else. The film that used to be concerned as the ultimate example of Welles stylism has now became a great example of Welles' realism. His "realism" is something different from Rossellini's realism or Ken Loach realism. I would venture to say it's closer to something like Scorsese realism or Oliver Stone realism (if Orson were alive today, he ceratinly would have worked with Robert Richardson as his DP), and this amazing realistic feeling you get from the new TOUCH OF EVIL will certainly blow your mind away, even to those whom who have seen the movie for more than 20 times.
on July 22, 2003
The story is pretty much known by many that after the heated battle with "Citizen Kane," Orson Welles was never given complete control over his films again. This would lead to the studio editing his movies and changing things he didn't want changed. This was the case with "Touch of Evil," and of course this really upset Welles. Now circumstances are different, as the DVD "Touch of Evil" offers you the restored and uncut version that is as close to Orson Welles' vision as you can get. And the results are pretty amazing, I must admit. "Touch of Evil" is an outstanding film noir that is unlike any you have ever seen.
It all starts with a car explosion that kills two. A Mexican narcotics investigator and a very obsessive and cold police chief are thrown into the investigation. That's only half the story, as the investigator's wife is confronted by a known criminal and his gang of hoodlums that threaten to cause trouble for them. And what's worse is that the police chief doesn't appear to be the most honorable man in the world, and perhaps is even crooked. This all leads to an explosive plot with an unbelievable finale that is both unpredictable and satisfying. It is very clear why "Touch of Evil" is hailed as a classic by many.
It's great to see that the movie has been restored to Welles' original vision. I've never seen the studio version of the film, and I never want to. I'm sure they did a fine job butchering it. Welles has done for "Touch of Evil" what Hitchcock has done for "Psycho." The outcome is an authentic and exhilarating film noir that is very different from any other film noir that is out there.
Charlton Heston is great in his role. He proves to be a pretty convincing Mexican narcotics investigator. Very hard to imagine, but it works on the screen. Orson Welles is unrelenting and chilling as the police chief, Hank Quinlan. No way in the world could the part have been played by anybody else. Janet Leigh also gives an unforgettable performance that gives the movie the extra kick it needs.
The DVD has a few extras. The picture and sound is really good, considering how old of a film it is. It is a very clear-cut transfer that does the movie justice. Extra features included are production notes, cast and crew bios, the original theatrical trailer, and Welles' complete memo to the studio about how he felt about the changes forced upon the film. It would've been nice to see this film get the "2-disk" treatment, but hopefully that will happen sometime in the future. I think many will be impressed with the fact that the film is now uncut and restored, leading to them not being too let down that there aren't many extras.
"Touch of Evil" is a great film that kept my complete attention from start to finish. Some may not like it since the pace can be slow at times, but that is the nature of film noir. The overall product is a dark and haunting film that was groundbreaking then and continues to be groundbreaking now. Highly recommended for huge film buffs, but then again chances are you have already seen it. I was very pleased with the film and it will be one that I will watch again and again. If you're looking for a different and exciting experience, be sure to give it a try. After all, the worst that can happen is you not liking the movie in the end. I think it's worth the risk.
on August 21, 2000
Touch Of Evil has been my all-time favourite film eversince I first viewed it with eyes fixed & mouth agape at the stunning opening sequence. The cinematography is amazing (apart from Robert Foster's corny inserts). Heston agreed to do the movie because he heard Welles was signed on. He would have done anything Welles told him to do, and it shows. Orson gives one of his best cinema appearances as the bent cop, Hank Quinlan. He uses great make-up & costume for the role which still fools viewers till this day. I'd like a dollar for every idiot who comments, "He's not looking too good in this film". Janet Leigh gives nice performance with broken arm & Akim Tamirof nearly steals all the thunder from the others with great character as head Grande. Dennis Weaver is perfect as goofball nightman & Deitrich is unforgetable. This is the greatest film noir ever made. With Welles behind & in front of the camera, it is a feast for all film lovers. After seeing the standard UCLA art house print & the restored print from recent years, I was so glad that someone decided to re-edit the film according to Welles' 58 page memo to MGM. The result is impressive to say the least. Not only do we get to see that famous opening crane shot without obtrusive opening credits, but the entire movie flows a hell of alot smoother & is easier to follow than the earlier theatre cut. Soon we'll all be able to see this masterpiece on DVD, re-edited & including Welle's 58 page memo. Who could ask for more?
Okay, here's the deal. When a studio puts a widescreen film on DVD or video and wants your entire television screen to be filled, one of two things are done. The first, and most common thing, is the PAN & SCAN method. This is when lots of image on the sides of the film spill over past the edge of your TV screen (can't fit a rectangular movie image perfectly into your more-square TV screen, after all), with the video/DVD producers doing their best to try to retain the stuff you need to see to follow the story. This is usually done by panning left and right, and sometimes by adding artificial cuts (when, for instance, a conversation is taking place in a car between someone on the far left and the far right sides of the screen, and both people have to be seen).
The other method to make the rectangular movie image fit onto the more-square TV screen is the OPEN MATTE method. This approach RETAINS all the information on the sides of the movie image, but ADDS picture information on the top and bottom of the screen to make the movie image more square, to fit your TV. Usually, this extra information amounts to some extra head room on the upper portion of the screen and more of an actor's body below, things like that. However, it is important to note that this extra picture information was never really meant for the viewer to see. Movie projectors, in fact, use masking devices to cut off this extra picture information, as per the director's framing guidelines, when you see a movie in a theater. A quick aside: ever laugh at a movie's "ineptitude" when the boom microphone clearly hovers above an actor's head, when you go to the movies sometimes? Well, that isn't the director's fault. It's the fault of the projectionist, because he or she didn't follow the framing guidelines sent along with the movie. You were seeing information you weren't MEANT to see.
So, what is going on with this "Touch of Evil" DVD is this: for years on TV, and for years on VHS, EXTRA information was added on the top and bottom of the TV image to fill out your square television screen. I imagine this was seen as a lesser evil than panning & scanning, which would have resulted in lots of picture on the sides being lost at any given time. So, for this new DVD, the manufacturers did indeed (as many have pointed out here) covered up picture information you may have seen before on TV or home video. Though I can see how this may seem frustrating at first ("They're trying to trick us with this [simulated]widescreen!" or "They're COVERING UP part of the picture!"), you really needn't be angry. No one is trying to trick you, or cut corners, or anything like that. It's just one of those weird situations where, to retain the original vision of the director, the black bars at the top and bottom of your screen are being used in a different way than they usually are: instead of using them to assure the retention of information on the sides of the picture (not necessary in this case, as that info was never lost on TV, VHS, etc.), the bars are being used to mask information you were never meant to see in the first place.
Hope all this meandering helped a bit to shed light on this often complicated issue. Oh, by the way, I really enjoyed the new re-edit of this movie, as well as the nice crystal clear DVD image. Welles' famous 58-page memo about the movie is also included, happily in a font big enough so one doesn't have to squint or sit two feet from the TV to read it.
on July 16, 2008
Finally, the last true film noir gets the treatment it deserves. It goes without saying that 8 years ago Universal did a great job, when 'Touch Of Evil' was released in a version restored to Orson Welles' original vision. However, butchered as it may have been when the studio took it away from Welles back in 1958, I still have fond memories of the theatrical version, especially the famous opening sequence.
In this sequence, which was filmed in one continuous take lasting 3 minutes and 20 seconds, the camera follows a car with a bomb in its trunk that eventually will explode, just after the car has passed the Mexican-American border. On the soundtrack of the theatrical version, this sequence was accompanied by an evil oozing theme written by Henry Mancini, full of rattling congas and a menacing dialogue between the horns.
For the restored version, Mancini's title theme has been skipped. Welles felt the threatening atmosphere would be better established by sound effects and source music coming from the surroundings, such as car radios, footsteps, and snippets of dialogue.
In my opinion, both versions have their merit. Compare them in this 50th anniversary edition (which also includes the preview version), and you'll agree that both Welles and Mancini had an evil touch.
on April 21, 2014
It's ironic that Universal released both "Double Indemnity"(1944) and "Touch of Evil"(1958) on the same day last week because the former is considered the first of the great film noir films while the latter is considered one of the last of this unique film genre. That's the way it should be as these two great films compliment each other and are the perfect bookends to all the film noir films that came in-between these years. "Double indemnity" is considered a classic of the film noir genre but the same could not be said for "Touch of Evil" when it first came out in 1958. What Universal released to theaters in that year was not the version that Orson Welles conceived. He wrote a 58 page memo to the studio(which is included as a booklet with this new Blu-ray) suggesting that changes be made to make the story flow better. His requests were pretty much ignored and he never made another film in Hollywood. In 1998, film historian Rick Schmidlin found the memo and persuaded Universal to fund a restoration. Re-released in 1998, "Touch of Evil" is now considered a classic and that is certainly brought out is this stunning new Blu-ray from Universal. Viewers have the option of watching all three versions of the film: the "reconstructed version"(111 minutes) from 1998, the "original theatrical version"(96 minutes) from 1958 and the "preview version"(109 minutes) from 1976. This Blu-ray review is for the "reconstructed version" and it looks absolutely glorious on Blu-ray. Welles was notorious for using deep focus photography in the films he directed and he worked with great cinematographers over the years. Russell Metty was the cinematographer for "Touch of Evil" and although filmed in black and white, details are more prominent now than they were in the standard DVD, especially in the close-ups. The story is complicated and it may take more than one viewing to understand what's going on, but it has all the elements of classic film noir including murder, betrayal, and above all corruption. It might not be to everyone's liking but after repeated viewings it grows on you. Metty's nighttime shots of the Mexican border-town (actually Venice, Calif.) are given new life on Blu-ray. Blacks, grays and whites are balanced throughout and shadows(there are lots of them) are more prominent. In addition to the main stars(Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Orson Welles)who give great performances, the supporting players give exceptional performances as well including Akim Tamiroff, Joseph Calleia, Dennis Weaver and the great Marlene Dietrich who has the best lines in the film. Joseph Cotton and Mercedes McCambridge even show up in un-credited roles. The audio has been improved also with dialogue being easily understood even when the actors are speaking at the same time. "Touch of Evil" contains the following subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish. Audio includes: English DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono, English Dolby Digital 2.0. In addition to the three versions of the film, bonus features include two documentaries and four commentaries. The packaging for this new Blu-ray presentation is different too. "Touch of Evil" comes in a solid standard Blu-ray case(not one of the eco-cutout cases) which is housed in a nice slipcase for added protection. Although it might not rank with "Double Indemnity" as classic film noir, "Touch of Evil" certainly comes close in this new Blu-ray from Universal. It should be essential to any film collectors library and comes highly recommended.
on March 26, 2015
TOUCH OF EVIL  [Limited Edition] [Blu-ray + Digital HD with UltraViolet] A Stylistic Masterpiece!
Directed by Orson Welles, ‘Touch of Evil’ is a film noir masterpiece whose Hollywood backstory is as unforgettable as the movie itself. Starring Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Orson Welles, this dark portrait of corruption and morally compromised obsessions tells the story of a crooked police chief who frames a Mexican youth as part of an intricate criminal plot. Featuring three versions of the film – the Preview Version, the Theatrical Version and the Reconstructed Version based on Orson Welles’ original vision, Touch of Evil is a “a stylistic masterpiece!” (Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide) that stands the test of time.
FILM FACT: The film opens with a three-minute, twenty-second tracking shot widely considered by critics as one of the greatest long takes in cinema history. In 1993, ‘Touch of Evil’ was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Cast: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Joanna Cook Moore, Ray Collins, Dennis Weaver, Val de Vargas, Mort Mills, Victor Millan, Lalo Rios, Phil Harvey, Joi Lansing, Harry Shannon, Rusty Wescoatt, Wayne Taylor, Ken Miller, Raymond Rodriguez, Arlene McQuade, Dan White, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Marlene Dietrich, Mercedes McCambridge, Keenan Wynn and Joseph Cotton (Uncredited)
Director: Orson Welles
Producers: Albert Zugsmith and Rick Schmidlin (1998 restoration and director's cut)
Screenplay: Orson Welles, Franklin Coen and Paul Monash (Uncredited)
Composer: Henry Mancini
Cinematography: Russell Metty, ASC
Video Resolution: 1080p [Black-and-White]
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Mono and English: 2.0 Dolby Digital Audio Mono
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish and French
Running Time: 111 minutes; 96 minutes and 99 minutes
Region: All Regions
Studio: Universal Studios
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: Honeymooning with American wife Susan Vargas [Janet Leigh] in the frontier town of Los Robles, Mexican special narcotics investigator Mike Vargas [Charlton Heston] finds business interrupting pleasure when a car bomb kills the town's boss. Required to investigate, Vargas finds himself up against Hank Quinlan [Orson Welles], a local detective with a reputation for getting his man by fair means or foul. Resentful of Mike Vargas' authority in the case, Hank Quinlan decides to tamper with evidence to ensure that a perpetrator is found. What's more, Hank Quinlan leans on local racketeer Joe Grandi, to ensure that Mike and Susan's stay in Los Robles is a most unpleasant one.
Orson Welles' glorious, if temporary, return to the Hollywood fray after years of studio neglect is one of his richest and most rewarding pictures. Adapted by Orson Welles himself, from a shelved Paul Monash script based on a minor novel by Whit Masterson (which Orson Welles famously never read), it's a supremely confident and stylish work. From the legendary opening tracking shot, still technically mesmerising with Russell Metty's black and white photography creates a strange chiaroscuro, noir landscape (though a straggler of the genre, the film stands as one of its finest entries) in which is quintessential Orson Wellesian themes of evil, corruption, and moral ambiguity loom large.
Orson Welles further evaded studio control by shooting much of the picture on location. He had originally asked to make the film in Tijuana, but the executives had feared that was too far from Hollywood for them to call the shots. Instead, he proposed shooting in Venice, California, for a few days. Once he got there, however, he settled in for most of the remaining shoot. By then, the executives were thrilled with each day's rushes, so they pretty much left him alone. Throughout filming, Orson Welles tweaked the script to get each scene just right. Usually he started his re-writes as soon as the day's (or night's) shooting was done and finished his re-writing in time for the next day's work. Nobody could tell when he was sleeping.
The most famous sequence in ‘Touch of Evil’ was the lengthy tracking shot that opens the film. The three-minute-plus shot opens with an unseen figure planting a bomb in a car, follows the car through the border town's streets, picks up Heston and wife Janet Leigh as they cross the border and ends as they kiss, and the bomb explodes off-screen. Welles spent an entire night getting the shot just right. When the customs officer questioning Heston and Leigh kept flubbing his lines, Welles told him to mouth the words. They could dub the right lines in later. They finally got the shot at the last possible moment - the sky was just turning pink in the east.
A fine cast more than match the coruscating material: Charlton Heston untypically restrained in Mexican garb strikes the right note of outrage in the face of judicial perversion and there is fine support not only from Janet Leigh but strong contributions from Marlene Dietrich, a young Dennis Weaver, and Joseph Celleia as Hank Quinlan's devoted partner. Orson Welles however towers over the proceedings, on-screen and off. Hank Quinlan is a grotesque, hauntingly recognisable creation, embittered by the past and forever doomed to seek former glories and is totally masterful!
Although ‘Touch of Evil’ was largely neglected in the U.S., the picture's European release was met with critical raves. It even won Best Picture at the Brussels Film Festival. That didn't change any minds at Universal, where the film was written off as a loss. But over the years, ‘Touch of Evil’ continued to find its audience through television and film society screenings which eventually sparked an interest among several of the film's admirers to restore it. The process began in the early 70s when Robert Epstein of the UCLA Film and Television requested a print to show at UCLA for the studio. When the film was screened it ran 108 min. and he believed he found Welles' lost cut; this was reported in The Hollywood Reporter at the time. But this was only a preview cut with many shots that Welles did not direct. A real turning point came in 1992: producer Rick Schmidlin read an article in Film Quarterly by Jonathan Rosenbaum that used excerpts from a 1957 memo Orson Welles wrote to studio chief Edward Muhl offering editing suggestions for Touch of Evil. As producer Rick Schmidlin brought in Oscar® winning editor Walter Murch who had just won two Academy Awards for ‘The English Patient’ and Orson Welles scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum as consultant to help construct the current 111 minute version.
Blu-ray Video Quality – ‘Touch of Evil’ is presented in an aspect ratio 1.85:1 with a stunning 1080p encoded black-and-white image that provides an extremely satisfying high definition picture. Grain is visible along with plenty of detail. Watching this edition offers an experience as close as one can imagine to sitting in a film cinema watching the film being projected. I should note that there are two different transfers to see here. One is for the 1998 Reconstruction, which is radically different throughout the film and would never be able to be seamlessly branched from the others. The second transfer is for both the Theatrical Release version and the longer Preview Version, which simply adds another 13 minutes of footage. Given the two transfers, you may see minor differences here and there as some viewers have noted in various forums. Without getting into the endless discussions of various people’s opinions about the aspect ratio, we understand that this is the proper aspect ratio in which to view the film.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – ‘Touch of Evil’ gets an English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix, for all three versions that presents the dialogue clearly and, in the case of the restored version, provides a variety of music and sound effects at easily discernible levels. This isn’t a surround mix, of course, but it definitely gets the job done in presenting both the words and the world of the film.
Blu-ray Special features and Extras:
Orson Welles’ Legendary 58 page booklet ‘Touch of Evil’ Memo To The Universal Studio. Dated 5th December 1957.
Digitally Re-mastered and Fully Restored from High Resolution 35mm Original Film Element.
Reconstructed 1998 Film Version: Re-edited in 1998, this definitive cut of the film is reconstructed to Orson Welles’ original version based on the 58 page Memo to the studio. With additional information we find out that in 1957, Orson Welles completed principal photography on ‘Touch of Evil’ and edited the first cut. Upon screening the film, the Studio felt it could be improved, shot additional scenes and re-edited it. Orson Welles viewed this new version and within hours a passionate 58 page Memo requesting editorial changes. This particular film version represents and attempt to honour those requests and make ‘Touch of Evil’ the film Orson Welles envisioned it to be, and stated that, “I close this Memo with a very earnest plea that you consent to this brief visual pattern to which I gave so many long hard day’s work.” – Orson Welles.
Theatrical 1958 Film Version: This version of the film was seen by the U.S. audiences when it was released in cinemas in 1958.
1976 Preview Film Version: Created prior to the cinema version, this cut of the film incorporates some of Orson Welles’ requests and was re-discovered by Universal Pictures in 1976.
Audio Commentary: Reconstructed 1998 Version Commentary with Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, and Reconstruction Producer Rick Schmidlin: The two stars of the film share their memories of working with Welles, while Rick Schmidlin alternates between pointing out specific changes and prompting the actors with questions about their experience. Some of the stories from Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh are repeated in the two documentaries, but with their memories prodded by Rick Schmidlin, they relate additional detail that makes this track especially totally informative and entertaining. On top of all that it is to my mind the definite audio commentary out of the all the audio commentaries to listen to.
Audio Commentary: Reconstructed 1998 Version Commentary with Reconstruction Producer Rick Schmidlin: In his solo commentary, Rick Schmidlin recounts in great detail the lengthy history of his efforts to interest Universal Studio in reconstructing the film in accordance with Orson Welles's Memo and his subsequent work with Editor Walter Murch on the 1998 reconstruction version. This is also a total bonus, as Rick Schmidlin gives us so much more information about his involvement with the Reconstructed 1998 Version audio and being solo without Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh in the studio with him, he is able to really get into a full flow of fascinating information. Again this is a real tour-de-force audio commentary not to be missed.
Audio Commentary: Theatrical 1958 Version Commentary with Writer/Filmmaker F.X. Feeney: You get to hear that F.X. Feeney is a massive long-time [obsessed] fan of the Theatrical 1958 Version, even as initially released. F.X. Feeney is an ideal guide to its themes, nuances and visual strategies of this 96 minutes film version. Although he notes various plot holes that are addressed in the Reconstructed Version, he tries to make a respectable case for the efficacy of the 1958 Theatrical Version. But to me it is my least favourite version, as far too much was edited out of the 1958 version and is a very disjointed presentation and you lose the plot, as there are too many holes.
Audio Commentary: 1976 Preview Version Commentary with Orson Welles Historians Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore: This is also a very informative audio commentary by two massive fans of the film, but despite it provides very little information about the Preview Version itself or any comparison between it and the 1958 Theatrical Version. Instead, the two commentators focus the film's themes and Orson Welles's underlying concerns, subjects they are uniquely qualified to address. But despite this, it is a must hear audio commentary and will keep you totally entertained and amused by all their comments throughout this 1976 Preview Film Version.
Feature Documentary: Bringing Evil To Life  [480i] [4:3] [20:58] With this brilliant retrospective documentary, features Robert Wise [Filmmaker]; Allen Daviau [Cinematography]; Peter Bogdanovich [Filmmaker]; Charlton Heston [Ramon Miguel (Mike) Vargas]; Janet Leigh [Susan Vargas]; Dennis Weaver [The Night Man]; Bob O’Neil [Picture Restoration] and Valentin De Vargas [Pancho]. This feature discusses the original production of the film and what happened in post-production after Orson Welles left to pursue another project. (Charlton Heston is admirably frank about the consequences of that action, noting that Orson Welles committed a major no-no and never got to direct a studio picture again in the United States.) (This feature was clearly prepared around the same time as the cast commentary, with contemporary interview footage of both Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh.)
Feature Documentary: Evil Lost and Found  [480i] [4:3] [17:04] With this behind-the-scene documentary with a look at the reconstruction of ‘Touch of Evil’ and the 3 versions of the film. This is a continuation of the above documentary “Bringing Evil To Life” and features Janet leigh [Susan Vargas]; Bob O’Neil [Picture Restoration]; Charlton Heston [Ramon Miguel (Mike) Vargas]; Rick Schmidlin [Producer of Editorial Change]; Peter Bogdanovich [Filmmaker]; Jonathan Rosenbaum [Consultant]; Walter Murch [Editor]; George Lucas [Filmmaker]; Curtis Hanson [Filmmaker] and Robert Wise [Filmmaker]. This feature discusses the work done by Walter Murch with Rick Schmidlin, Jonathan Rosenbaum and others to follow the Welles’ memo in re-editing the film. There is some repetition with the first featurette, but this is still all helpful material. But with this particular documentary, at the end we get a personal video tour with Curtis Hanson, who is in Windward Pacific in Venice California and points out the specific building locations used in the Orson Welles ‘Touch of Evil’ to give the impression that we was at a specific Mexican Border Town. We are also informed that the town was built and developed by Abbot Kinney (1850 – 1920) and when oil was discovered, the place finally fell into disrepair. This is a brilliant extra bonus to this specific Evil Lost and Found documentary. A must view.
Theatrical Trailer: This is the Original Trailer for ‘Touch of Evil’  [480i] [4:3] [2:08] This is of very bad quality and such a shame they could not of found a more pristine copy and especially in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
Finally, Orson Welles' 'Touch of Evil' is a genuinely remarkable motion picture that displays one stroke of cinematic genius after another, a brilliant piece of work with an interesting backstory to match. Starring Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, and Orson Welles, the crime thriller is a deliciously lurid tale of corruption, murder, and the morally compromised, which still stands as a stunning, stylized noir masterpiece. The Blu-ray arrives with spectacular picture, strong audio and satisfying bonus features. All in all, this is a classic masterpiece that rightly belongs in any respectable cinephile's ultimate collection. But one interesting fact I want to bring to your attention and in all the Audio Commentaries, is that they are stunned by Marlene Dietrich performances and how the actors would kill to be in the film with her. But they also love Marlene Dietrich classic comment to Orson Welles in saying, "Your future is all used up," plus the final scene at the end of the film when Marlene Dietrich turns round and says, “Adios.” Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom
on August 22, 1999
I was able to see Orson Welles' cut of "Touch of Evil" and it's MUCH better than the video version sold here. I'm wondering if ORSON WELLES' CUT will appear on DVD anytime soon.
"Touch of Evil" is based on Whit Masterson's novel "Badge of Evil" about a battle wills between a crooked American cop and a strait-laced Mexican narcotics agent investigating the murder of a wealthy businessman, whose car was blown up in the United States by a bomb planted in Mexico. Captain Quinlan (Orson Welles) is an old, alcoholic, cop whose "intuition" has made him the law of the land in his county. Miguel "Mike" Vargas (Charlton Heston) is a clean-cut Mexican police officer involved in prosecuting the drug-running Grandi family. Mike's honeymoon with his new American wife Susie (Janet Leigh) is interrupted by the bombing, harassment from the Grandis, and a constantly snarling Quinlan. When Quinlan plants evidence to frame the lover of the dead man's daughter, Manolo Sanchez (Victor Millan), for the crime, Vargas feels compelled to challenge Quinlan an investigate the case himself.
Orson Welles was originally tapped to play the villain in "Touch of Evil" but Welles ended up directing the film as well. Things went smoothly until "Touch of Evil" met the fate of so many of Welles' American films: Universal denied Welles the final cut on the film. Contract director Harry Keller was called in to direct additional scenes, and the film was reedited into something of an incoherent mess. It was the last Hollywood film that Orson Welles directed. In 1957 Welles saw the Universal's final cut and wrote a 58-page entreaty to studio head Edward Muhl detailing changes, mostly in editing, that he felt would make the film's tone more consistent and storyline more coherent. His suggestions were ignored. "Touch of Evil" failed at the box office. And it became something of an oddity among classic film noir. The film was revered in Europe for it's sporadic brilliance in spite of its thematic and narrative confusion. In the 1970s, a 109-minute preview version of "Touch of Evil" was discovered that included an extra 10-15 minutes of footage shot by both Welles and Harry Keller. Around 1990, Welles' letter to the Edward Muhl resurfaced. With Universal's cooperation, producer Rich Schmidlin and editor Walter Murch tried to reedit "Touch of Evil" the way Welles had suggested. The film on this DVD is the product of their efforts. In 1999, "Touch of Evil" was reborn, new and improved.
I saw the original Universal Studios version of "Touch of Evil" at a screening in 1989. By that time, it has become fashionable in American film circles to think the film was brilliant, and "Touch of Evil" had remarkably become the second-most-studied Orson Welles work, after "Citizen Kane". But the "Touch of Evil" that I saw featured a few great scenes among a morass of poorly paced, nonsensical storyline. The film was mediocre at best. I distinctly remember its major flaws: The Henry Mancini score that accompanied the fantastic opening 3-minute crane shot gave entirely the wrong impression of the film, leaving the audience to believe it would be watching an upbeat, extroverted, thriller, when it's actually an introverted, cynical, film noir. The motivation behind policeman Pete Menzies' (Joseph Calleia) actions, critical to the film's outcome, was entirely unclear. And the scenes in which Capt. Quinlan speaks to Marlene Dietrich's Tanya are high camp, apparently unintentionally. I was unsure how much the film could be improved by reediting, so I watched this new version of "Touch of Evil" eagerly but with trepidation. I was delighted to find that the film's biggest inconsistencies and opacities have been fixed!
I still don't think "Touch of Evil" is a great film, but it's a good one. The film's strongest element is its chaotic, menacing tone: People tend to speak simultaneously, interrupting each other. The shuttling between the U.S. and Mexican border towns, each with its own brand of lawlessness, keeps the audience on edge. The characters are often unaware that they have no control of their fates. Susie's hotel room scenes are among the most genuinely unsettling I've seen in any film. This is solid film noir. Paul Schrader called "Touch of Evil" "film noir's epitaph", because it came late in the classic film noir cycle. I think it actually came after the classic film noir cycle. "Touch of Evil" was retro when it was made, which is probably why the studio felt it wouldn't work. Orson Welles was out of touch with American audiences, having been in Europe for years. Audiences in 1958 didn't want to be told that they had no control of their lives, the world is a dangerous place, and nothing is as it seems. But film noir fans love that attitude, and this version is much improved over the original "Touch of Evil".
The DVD (Universal 2000): This is a restored print of the film, so it has no physical flaws. The most notable bonus feature is "Welles' Memo", which is Orson Welles' 58-page letter to Universal's Edward Muhl, on which this reedit of the film is based. Welles addresses mostly editing and score issues, and his suggestions reveal his intent in many of the scenes. There is also an unrestored theatrical trailer (2 min). "Production Notes" (text) provide a brief summary of the story of reediting the film. "Cast and Filmmakers" are brief text bios and selective filmographies for 7 members of the cast, writer Whit Masterson, Orson Welles, and producer Albert Zugsmith. Captioning for the film is available in English. Subtitles are available in French and Spanish.
By any standard, this is a great film masterpiece. In fact, I consider this to be the third greatest film in Welles's career, following only CITIZEN KANE and the first three-quarters of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. It features some of the finest photography of any film ever made in America, a deeply troubling screenplay touching on moral ambiguity, and one of the greatest yet unflattering performances in Welles great career.
The opening shot that begins this film is one of the most spectacular in the history of film. It is a joy to watch and rewatch that shot, which takes around three minutes ot screen time, to figure out how it was managed. I imagine that a crane on the back of a truck was required, given the enormous distance from the ground the camera was able to travel. It reminded me of similar shots in films by Alfred Hitchcock (I believe in YOUNG AND INNOCENT) and the end of Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. Such shots are rare because they depend upon a huge number of individuals getting everything right, and because coordinating such a shot can be a nightmare. It is one of the most virtuosic moments in the career of one of cinema's greatest virtuosos.
Orson Welles's physical appearance in the film is shocking, and provides the foundation for an astounding performance. He was only 43 when he played the part, but looked not just much older, but used up. Quite appropriately, in one scene a former paramous played by Marlene Dietrich doesn't recognize him at all. It doesn't seem possible that he could be the same actor who played Harry Lime in THE THIRD MAN only nine years earlier. It wasn't just the enormous weight gain during that time. They did a great deal to accentuate the changes in his physique. Although much heavier, they also apparently padded his midsection to make him appear more immense than he actually was. Other steps were taken to increase the appearance of great size. For instance, in his first encounter with Charlton Heston, Welles mysterious was taller than Heston by a few inches, whereas Heston was, in fact, a few inches taller than Welles. In his performance, Welles manages to convey complete physical and moral decay, as if evil had touched him and caused his demise.
On thing that did bother me in the film was the casting of Charlton Heston as a Mexican. He is a fine actor, and he did a good job, but he was simply not convincing as a Mexican. He looks like a gringo with dark mark up on and with his hair dyed black. It is an all too common problem with films shot in the thirties to the sixties, even. Only in the 1970s did Native Americans, for instance, actually start playing Native Americans.
I hope at some time in the future, a new DVD of this film is released that includes both the original release version of the film as well as the restored version. While the reedited version is clearly the one to see, it would be interesting to contrast the version that represents Welles's own conception with the way in which the studio altered it.