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Touch of Evil (1958) - Blu-ray Review

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Touch of Evil - Blu-ray Review

5 stars

“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 days of work.” That is the closing line in writer/director Orson Welles’ 58-page memo to Universal after finally seeing the studio’s version of his movie. Touch of Evil is a certified classic but it isn’t how Welles wanted it to be due to studio involvement. Welles, always an incredible visual director, was once again sidelined by a nervous studio. He wouldn’t be silenced, though.

After a less than well-received screening, Universal recut the film and changed large portions to suit their needs. They thought they were salvaging the film. Welles thought they were slaughtering it. And now, thanks to some well-preserved letters, Welles version exists only in memo form but – to their credit – Universal, recognizing their error many years later, retooled the film to include the footage Welles requested.

Today, we have three different versions of the film – the Preview Version, the Theatrical Version, and the Reconstruction Version (based upon his memo) – to watch and appreciate. Collected together on one disc, Universal’s blu-ray release of Touch of Evil is a monumental expression of sorrow. Therefore, you should proceed accordingly and only watch the Reconstructed Version.

The black-and-white film opens with a famous a three-minute, twenty-second tracking shot as a bomb is planted in a car and followed to its detonation. It is perhaps THE greatest moment in film history; one of many for Welles as a director. The border and border towns always brings out the worst in people, the characters in the film express and Welles – with camera in tow (manned by Russell Metty) – is there to expressively capture the plurality as a dark night of the soul is plundered in Touch of Evil, one of the last examples of the Film Noir movement.

Newlyweds Miguel "Mike" Vargas (Charlton Heston) and Susie (Janet Leigh) get caught up in something very sinister when Police Chief Pete Gould (Harry Shannon) and District Attorney Adair (Ray Collins) arrive on the scene and begin their highly illegal investigation into and around Mexico. Adapted by Welles from the novel by Whit Masterson called "Badge of Evil", Touch of Evil is a mercurial thriller that never gives up on the throttle as it plows through the cast (which includes Dennis Weaver, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Ray Collins, and Marlene Dietrich), the overlapping speeches, and Welles’ own bag of magician’s tricks.

Largely ignored in the Unites States, Touch of Evil is now recognized as anything but what it was once accused of being: trashy and of a low morale character. This is harrowing stuff that Welles tackles mercilessly and maybe it was truly ahead of its time. Regardless, not everyone was immune to its power as it was awarded Best Picture at the Brussels Film Festival while Americans gave the same award to the musical Gigi.

Touch of Evil was Orson Welles' fifth Hollywood film - and it was his last American film. If you’ve never seen it, this is the release to own.

Touch of Evil - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: This title has not been rated by the MPAA
Runtime:
90 mins
Director
: Orson Welles
Writer:
Orson Welles
Cast:
Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Janet Leigh
Genre
: Crime | Film-Noir | Thriller
Tagline:
The Overwhelming Drama of a Strange Vengeance.
Memorable Movie Quote: "This isn't the real Mexico. You know that. All border towns bring out the worst in a country. I can just imagine your mother's face if she could see our honeymoon hotel."
Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
April 23, 1958
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
April 15, 2014
Synopsis: A stark, perverse story of murder, kidnapping, and police corruption in a Mexican border town.

Touch of Evil - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - April 15, 2014
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (48kHz, 24-bit)
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD); UV digital copy; Digital copy (as download)
Region Encoding: Region-free

There are four commentaries from a host of Welles scholars and Touch of Evil aficionados. First up is Rick Schmidlin, who supplies a commentary (recorded in 2008) for the widescreen print of his 1998 edit, and goes into blow by blow detail about the changes made and the reasons (Welles’ original reasons) for them. In the second commentary, Schmidlin is joined by Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh for a track that is inevitably mostly about the two stars recollections of the actual shoot, providing plenty of fascinating anecdotes about Welles’ direction and attitude on set day-to-day. The third commentary is by FX Feeney and is the first of two critical analysis of the film, both of which are engrossing; the fourth and last comes with the extended preview cut and is inevitably a more conversational (but no less fascinating) track since it features scholars and critics James Naremore and Jonathan Rossenbaum discussing the film.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None

Special Features:

First up, ported over from a previous Universal release from some years ago is the 21 minute making-of documentary “Bringing Evil to Life”, featuring contributions from fans such as filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and the film’s two stars Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh. This deals with the production itself, but a second featurette, “Evil Lost and Found”, runs for a further 18 minutes and focuses on Welles’ battle to get the film’s editing changed, and the project to belatedly fulfil the director’s wishes that was later instigated by producer Rick Schmidlin with the help of Walter Murch – the editing genius behind Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation”. Also included is a copy of the 58-page memo that Welles wrote to Universal on December 5, 1957, which served as a guide to the 1998 reconstruction, and is included as a printed booklet.

  • Bringing Evil to Life (21 min)
  • Evil Lost & Found (18 min)
  • Theatrical Trailer

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