341 of 362 people found the following review helpful
Buy this, even if you've already seen this film 20 times!,
This review is from: Touch of Evil (Widescreen Edition) (DVD)
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.
Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-10 of 19 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 7, 2008 7:12:37 AM PDT
The Old Book Worm says:
Posted on May 31, 2008 5:55:09 PM PDT
Toshie, thank you very much for your very enlightening review. It is amazing that you... for whom English is probably not a native language... could convey so much useful information in so short a space. I found your knowledge of movie trivia to be amazing and quite entertaining.
Posted on Oct 18, 2008 10:58:31 PM PDT
good review. and comparing scorsese to welles makes sense, but not oliver stone. he's no welles. he's no scorese either.
Posted on Jan 31, 2009 11:17:19 AM PST
Andre Ali Seewood says:
Great review! You're absolutely right on the money about the shift the two versions make in appreciating Welles' stylism and his realism.
Posted on Feb 8, 2009 9:11:59 PM PST
Paul Kyriazi says:
Very good review. I learned a lot from it and will get the new version. Paul
Posted on Apr 6, 2009 10:21:40 AM PDT
Walter Five says:
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 7, 2009 5:21:22 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Feb 16, 2012 9:06:19 AM PST]
Posted on Feb 16, 2012 7:40:22 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 16, 2012 7:47:00 AM PST
The Batmaniac says:
This was an EXCELLENT review--rather even that term may be inappropriate. This is a well thought out examination of a remarkable achievement by Welles. If I were to criticize anything it would be in trying to describe Oliver Stone's work as "realistic" in a disparaging comparison to Welles; such a premise is based on the presumption that Stone's work strives for realism--which is false. Stone often engages in illusion, often changing "facts" to serve the larger story he wants to tell. Stone's work is best described as "Surrealistic", having more in common with David Lynch or Sergio Leone than Orson Welles, although I would still be tempted to put Welles in that category, too, but that's another subject.
Excellent job on all other accounts!
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 16, 2012 7:57:05 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Feb 16, 2012 7:58:26 AM PST]
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 16, 2012 9:07:07 AM PST
Critic's Corner says:
Great response. This was a very good review. Yeah, some people are intolerant of differences, but being from California we're more open and accepting than other parts of the USA. Just saying. :)