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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/20/00

Touch of Evil
1958 (2000) - Universal

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Touch of Evil Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/D

Specs and Features

111 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, cast and crew bios, theatrical trailers (Psycho and Vertigo), Welles' memo to Universal about restoring Touch of Evil, film themed menu screens, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: English, French and Spanish

All right... welcome to all of you who just read our Lady from Shanghai review (and if you haven't read it yet, it's definitely the place to start - consider it part one of THIS review). Anyway, after his self-imposed exile from Hollywood, Orson Welles decided to make a comeback of sorts. He had a smallish screenplay based on the crime novel Badge of Evil, by Whit Masterson, and he figured he could make it as a sturdy B-grade picture. Universal was interested and so production began on the film, under the name Touch of Evil. Welles was hopeful that his luck was changing. What ended up happening was an almost exact replica of what happened on The Lady from Shanghai.

The story of Touch of Evil has a dual focus. First, there's Ramon "Mike" Vargas (Charlton Heston), a straight arrow Mexican narcotics investigator with political aspirations and friends in all the right places. When a car bomb explodes on the US/Mexican border, the Americans take the liberty of sending their best cop Hank Quinlan (Welles) into Mexico to see what he can dig up. They figure that since the bomb originated in Mexico, and it killed an American, it's a crime against the States. The second story is all about Hank, a tough talking lifer detective who used to drink hard and, when pushed, might have a couple for old times sake. What ends up happening with these two characters is a spiral of corruption that won't leave anything untouched - including Mike's new bride, played by Janet Leigh. Filled to the brim with acidic sweat, slobbering evil goons and oh-so-bitter irony, Touch of Evil is one of the greatest film noirs ever made.

Once again, studio interference rendered a Welles film a lame duck. The studio didn't understand Welles' visual flair, from his view-askew camera set-ups to his incredibly long takes (like the famous one that starts the film) and his vignette style of storytelling. They didn't even understand his choice of music design. At each and every point in the film, there's evidence of studio mishandling. Well... that is say, there used to be. With this new DVD, we're playing on a brand new ballpark. Here we get Touch of Evil presented to us as close to the way Welles envisioned the film. Restored back to its original glory with the help of the memo Welles sent Universal brass; this is even more of a masterstroke. Back is the opening scene, the way it was intended to be seen - dropped right down at the beginning of the film. Gone are the opening credits and title song. We start the film off with a literal bang, as well as hearing the "in and out" sound design as it would be heard if you were to pass a series of storefronts playing their tunes. The pace is picked up, and the editing is cleaned up, giving us back the ironic analogy filmmaking style that Welles pioneered with Citizen Kane. The structure of the film and the composition of each scene is a poem, a visual poem and everything means something. This isn't just a story of two men searching for or covering up the truth. This is a story of two men -- one who follows his hunches, no matter what, and another so driven that even if it doesn't involve him, he's willing to throw his life away. Between Heston and Welles, I'll let you figure out who is who.

The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen, and it looks great. It's mean, it's gritty and it sparkles. The blacks are solid and I didn't see any bad digital garbage floating around. The sound it a simple Dolby Digital mono, and it's pretty playful. Especially in the opening shots. You get the effects that are needed and you walk away thinking it's more than mono, and that's what counts.

Extras are minor, which is a shame. First of all, you should know that this disc was originally to have been a Collector's Edition DVD, that would have included the documentary Reconstructing Evil. We understand that the documentary had to be dropped because of a legal rights issue, and when that occurred, the studio dropped the "collector's edition" title as well. But in lieu of the documentary, I can only wonder why Universal didn't think to put the ORIGINAL unrestored version of this film on the disc, so you could compare the two. I don't care how much legal hooey you have, put a disc out right or don't put it out at all. Touch of Evil is a film lover's dream, and having to go out and find the original version elsewhere is silly. Aside from that, Universal didn't even put a commentary track on this disc. Any yahoo could have done one. Hell, I could have done a track. In my book, they really missed an opportunity to present this film properly on DVD. All we get in the end, and it is a nice extra, is the original memo that Welles used to basically pled with the studio to put his poetry back into the film. It's a nice thing to read, but really, the memo is hard to really visualize without A) a commentary explaining what he meant and B) the other version of the film to compare what works and what doesn't. The disc rounds things out with some trailers for Hitchcock films (?!) and a few cast and crew bios. That's shameful.

Orson Welles WAS a genius. You can stomp and stammer all you want if you don't agree, but he was. There are a few of his films that even I (a huge Welles fan) don't "get" and I'm a pretty intelligent filmgoer. But that's okay - artists weren't meant to please everyone. If they did, it wouldn't be art and Welles knew this. He lived his life working for his art. Everything he did was for his craft and his love of it. Need money for a play? Make a movie. Want to finish the other project you're working on? Do a cameo in a film. Welles loved film and film loved him. And if you love Welles like we do, check out Touch of Evil and The Lady from Shanghai to see what was... and what could have been. These two discs might just hold us until Warner gets off its ass and gives us Citizen Kane on DVD. But they'd better hurry, because Universal's Touch of Evil, at least, won't hold us for long.

Todd Doogan
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