of Evil on DVD
Welles Final Hollywood
Orson Welles' last Hollywood creation shows that changing times, and
changing studio management, can bring new vision to the brass of Tinseltown.
When he first made Touch of Evil in 1958, Universal Studios pulled it
away from his clutches and edited it their way over his protestations.
Now, more than forty years later, some visionaries at Universal have finally
allowed us to see a version of this "film noir" classic as close as possible
to the way Welles envisioned his project.
Welles wrote, directed, and co-stars in "Touch of Evil," and his fingerprints
can be seen all over it. It's a story about flawed people leading and
defending their flawed lives, magnificently and innovatively directed
and with (with one exception) perfect casting and performances.
The film stars Charlton Heston as Miguel Vargas, a Mexican narcotics
cop who, upon crossing into the United States with his new American wife
(Janet Leigh), crosses paths and swords with organized crime and a burned
out and corrupt local police chief Hank Quinlan (Welles). Look, too, for
Zsa Zsa Gabor and Marlene Dietrich is cameo roles.
Welles' performance as the fat slob Quinlan is nothing short of amazing;
he's old, fat, tired, jaded, burned out, defensive, offensive, desperate...
Leigh is there mostly for decorative purposes, yet brings a real vulnerability
to a part that ends up being basically a tennis ball being volleyed back
and forth between Heston, Welles, and the drug lord.
Heston, a marvelous actor with incredible screen presence, shouldn't
have been cast as Vargas. His acting is fine, but his complexion has been
so darkened with makeup to make him look Mexican that he actually appears
darker than the hispanic actors - and he speaks with no Spanish accent
while hispanic-American roles are delivered with thick accents. It's the
weakest part of the film and it does detract from this otherwise riveting
No reflection on Heston, who undoubtedly has the talent to fake a Spanish
accent, but Welles' should have made him do it.
Oh well, if that's the film's biggest problem...
According to the DVD, Universal grabbed the film from Welles' hands and
edited it their way, and then showed it to Welles at a screening. Welles,
appalled at what the suits had had done to his work, wrote them a 58 page
memo arguing his case - most of which fell on blind eyes.
Now, however, Universal has taken that memo to heart and re-edited the
film to make it as close to Welles' original vision as possible. Many
of the changes are small, but one in particular leaps right out at you:
the opening shot.
We don't know if they edited the visuals or not, but they've restored
the soundtrack to the original intent, a tapestry of background noise
and music that underlays the three-minute-plus shot, and it works beautifully.
The DVD itself has been restored as well, and the 16x9 anamorphic widescreen
picture looks very good. There's a touch of softness to it, and it's quite
dark, but this is undoubtedly intentional on the part of the director.
The audio quality, which is Dolby Digital mono, is also very good.
For extras, you're given the entire Welles memo (which is a fascinating
look into the mind of this innovative auteur), production notes, cast
information, the trailer, and some trailers for a bunch of Universal's
Touch of Evil isn't a particularly pleasant film, due to its dark subject
matter but, at least in its restored incarnation, it's a legitimate cinematic
masterpiece that belongs in the collection of cinema buffs.
Touch of Evil, from Universal Home Video
111 minutes, Widescreen (1.85:1) 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital mono
Starring Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Janet Leigh
Produced by Albert Zugsmith
Written and Directed by Orson Welles
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