film with a troubled history, Touch of Evil comes
to blu-ray in an edition that – short or re-animating Orson
Welles, finding the lost footage and setting him to work –
is probably as definitive as you could hope for.
Welles’ late entry take on Film Noir, Touch of Evil
opens with an impressive – and much-lauded – tracking
shot and then gets down and dirty, as the tale of crime and corruption
on the Mexican border switches between Mexican drug enforcer Mike
Vargas (Charlton Heston) and his investigations into corrupt cop
Hank Quinlan (Welles), and Vargas’ American wife Susan (Janet
Leigh), who finds herself the target of Quinlan and Mexican crime
lord ‘Uncle’ Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff) as they attempt
to get Vargas off both their backs one way or another.
In the Noir tradition, Touch of Evil is a cynical
tale of corruption and moral ambiguity, heightened with a sweaty
undercurrent and a dark sexuality that was unusual for the time
– at one point, Leigh looks about to be gang-raped by a
grubby band of male and female assailants. Throw in racial
tension and drug abuse – again, daring for the time –
and you have a film that would be impressive even without the
deft touches that Welles brings to the story. Building events
slowly and – at least in the restored version – switching
skilfully between the two concurrent plot strands before eventually
bring them together for a suitably bleak climax, director Welles
creates a masterful and audacious movie – and tops it by
playing one of cinema;s scuzziest villains.
not getting away from the fact that, yes, the film does feature
thoroughly Anglo-Saxon Charlton Heston blacked up as a Mexican,
and that’s pretty hard to swallow. But get beyond that and
you’ll find he gives a predictably solid performance, as
does Janet Leigh (between this film and Psycho, she really did
little to promote the motel business it has to be said…).
With excellent supporting cast performances – including
small roles for Marlene Deitrich and Dennis Weaver – this
is a film worthy of its reputation, and essential viewing –
especially in this new edition.
This new release features no less than three versions of the film
– the original theatrical release that was re-edited by
the studio with extra footage shot to replace some of Welles’
own material; a 1958 preview version that is 13 minutes longer;
and the 1998 restoration, compiled from existing footage and Welle’s
own 58 page memo after he saw the original studio edit. This still
includes material not shot by Welles, but is the closest we’ll
get to the version he preferred outside of his original cut. This
is the one to watch if you need to choose. Each edition comes
with a commentary track, and this double disc set also includes
two featurettes about the making (and unmaking / restoration)
of the film.
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