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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: Touch of Evil 50th Anniversary Edition - Highly Recommended

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#1 of 79 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted September 29 2008 - 01:46 AM


Studio: Universal
Original Release: 1958 (Restored Version 1998)
Length: 1 hour 51 mins (Restored Version), 1 hour 36 mins (Theatrical Version), 1 hour 49 mins (Preview Version)
Genre: Film Noir/Suspense

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Color/B&W: Black & White Feature/Color Supplements

  • English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono

    Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
    Rating: PG-13 (Restored Version), Not Rated (Theatrical & Preview Versions)

  • Release Date: October 7, 2008

    Rating: 4 /

    Starring: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor

    Screenplay by: Orson Welles
    Based on the novel “Badge of Evil” by Whit Masterson
    Directed by: Orson Welles (Some material directed by Harry Keller)

    Touch of Evil 50th Anniversary Edition is the special edition DVD release that fans of the film have been awaiting for years. Care has been taken to present the film in the best possible condition, as well as to provide supplements lacking from the earlier edition. The film itself has a checkered history, as the last studio picture directed by Orson Welles, containing multiple character cameos and an unforgettable opening shot that is still discussed today. It’s a brilliantly executed film, if a bit murky in its plotting, showing Welles’ skill in composition and juxtaposition throughout. The basic plot, involving corruption on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border, functions mostly as a vehicle to showcase the gifts of a quite varied cast (including a surprising cameo by Dennis Weaver and an appearance by Marlene Dietrich that surprised the studio execs) and Welles’ considerable gifts in telling the story. Unfortunately, the film Welles may have intended to release has never been available, due to a series of recuts and reshoots done at the behest of the studio after Welles disappeared during post-production. After the film had been reshaped with new scenes directed by Harry Keller, Welles’ attended a preview screening and issued a 58 page memo, indicating a series of changes he hoped the studio would make to bring the film closer to his intentions. His memo was not followed, and the studio in fact made further cuts before releasing a version of the film at 96 minutes in the second position on a double bill. Years later, a longer preview cut of the film was discovered and released for fans, including more footage but bringing fans no closer to Welles’ vision of the film. Finally, in 1998, a new version of the film was released, this one attempting to follow Welles’ memo as closely as possible, using the existing prints. This restored version is not a “director’s cut” as Welles did not participate in it, but it at least tries to bring the film more in line with what Welles had in mind. (I should note that an unknown amount of Welles’ footage from the film was destroyed around the time the film was released, so it is impossible to ever know what a true “Welles cut” would look like.)

    The new 2-disc DVD, released ostensibly for the film's 50th anniversary, includes all three versions of the film, with the restored version and two featurettes filling the first disc, and the theatrical and preview versions filling the second disc. Each version of the film gets its own scene-specific commentary, with the restored version getting two separate commentaries. Much of this material appears to have been prepared back in 1999 for the prior DVD release of the restored version, including interviews and commentary with Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh. (My understanding is that litigation prevented the inclusion of the commentary and the featurettes from the prior version, but that has since passed.) The earlier DVD contained just the restored version of the film and an onscreen copy of Welles’ memo, along with some production notes and the film’s trailer. The new version contains all three versions, the commentaries, the trailer, the featurettes and a stapled copy of the memo in the DVD packaging. The only thing missing from the prior release is the “Production Notes” section, but that is obviated by the featurettes and the commentaries which make such a section superfluous.

    I should note that the film is presented only in the anamorphic widescreen format; no full-frame version is available. Without getting into the pros and cons of this, I simply note that fact in case any of the film’s fans are using that as a basis for purchasing the edition or not. For myself, I recommend it highly, and I’m happy to see the film finally get a thorough examination on DVD.


    Touch of Evil is presented in a crisp anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer for all three versions of the film. The transfer appears to be the same one available on the prior release in 2000, but that’s not a problem here. Russell Metty’s shadowy photography comes through nicely here – it’s a pleasure to watch the transfer. (Again, there are many people who prefer the full-frame ratio for the film, and I’m not arguing with them about that. I just don’t have a problem with the widescreen ratio here.)


    Touch of Evil is presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix in English for all three versions that presents the dialogue clearly and, in the case of the restored version, provides a variety of music and sound effects at easily discernible levels. This isn’t a surround mix, of course, but it definitely gets the job done in presenting both the words and the world of the film.


    Touch of Evil comes with no less than four scene-specific commentaries, along with two featurettes and the original trailer. This is great stuff for anyone interested in the history of the film – enough to keep pretty much anyone busy for some time to come.

    On the first disc, we find:

  • Restored Version Feature Commentary with Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and producer Rick Schmidlin – This is a wide-ranging discussion of the production of the film with the two leads, as engaged by restoration producer Schmidlin. Some of the information is repeated in the featurettes, but it’s still a lot of fun and an education to hear these things directly from Heston and Leigh. (Given the fact that neither is with us today, and that Heston was stricken soon after with Alzheimer’s, it’s a gift that this commentary exists at all. I believe that this commentary was prepared for the earlier DVD but could not be included at the time. Thankfully, it is included here.) (I note that the back of the packaging mistakenly refers to this as commentary for the Preview Version.)

  • Restored Version Feature Commentary with producer Rick Schmidlin - While the first commentary consists of Schmidlin asking Heston and Leigh questions about the film’s production, the second one finds Schmidlin on his own discussing his work on the film at length. This is a little more technical than the chatty exchanges on the first commentary, but it is equally helpful.

  • Bringing Evil to Life (20:58, Full Frame) – This featurette discusses the original production of the film and what happened in post production after Welles left to pursue another project. (Heston is admirably frank about the consequences of that action.) (This featurette was clearly prepared around the same time as the cast commentary, with contemporary interview footage of both Heston and Leigh.)

  • Evil Lost and Found (17:05, Full Frame) – This featurette discusses the work done by Walter Murch with Rick Schmidlin, Jonathan Rosenbaum and others to follow the Welles’ memo in re-editing the film. There is some repetition with the first featurette, but this is still all helpful material. Curtis Hanson takes the viewer on a tour of the various locations in Venice, concluding with the bridge location on the Venice canals for the film’s climax.

  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:09 total, Full-Frame) - It’s not listed on the packaging, but the original trailer is again available here. This is the same copy available on the prior DVD release.

    On the second disc, we find the other two versions and their respective scene-specific commentaries:

  • Theatrical Version Feature Commentary with Film Critic F.X. Feeney – The theatrical cut gets a running commentary from the longtime critic for the L.A. Weekly and many other publications. Feeney openly states his appreciation for the theatrical cut right off the bat, describing it as the fastest moving of the three. Like the others, he discusses the history of the production and the choices involved with the editing of the film down to the original release length.

  • Preview Version Feature Commentary with Orson Welles historians Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore - This commentary finds the two men discussing the movie with each other, and noting the differences for this edition. As with the other commentaries, this is another “film school in a commentary” and it is just as helpful as the other ones in this set.

    Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish for the film itself, as well as for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference for each version.

    IN THE END...

    Touch of Evil finally gets a truly special collector’s edition for it’s 50th Anniversary. I am pleased to highly recommend it as a find for fans of the film, Orson Welles, or cinema in general.

    Kevin Koster
    September 29, 2008.

    #2 of 79 OFFLINE   Brandon Conway

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    Posted September 29 2008 - 07:40 AM

    Sounds awesome. Almost makes me want to buy the DVD and not wait for a BD. Almost.

    "And now the reprimand, from an American critic. He reproaches me for using film as a sacred & lasting medium, like a painting or a book. He does not believe that filmmaking is an inferior art, but he believes, and quite rightly, that a reel goes quickly, that the public are looking above all for relaxation, that film is fragile and that it is pretentious to express the power of one's soul by such ephemeral and delicate means, that Charlie Chaplin's or Buster Keaton's first films can only be seen on very rare and badly spoiled prints. I add that the cinema is making daily progress and that eventually films that we consider marvelous today will soon be forgotten because of new dimensions & colour. This is true. But for 4 weeks this film [The Blood of a Poet] has been shown to audiences that have been so attentive, so eager & so warm, that I wonder after all there is not an anonymous public who are looking for more than relaxation in the cinema." - Jean Cocteau, 1932

    #3 of 79 OFFLINE   BillyFeldman


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    Posted September 29 2008 - 09:45 AM

    Nice review, but it doesn't matter if people prefer a full-frame version, since the film was not released that way - it was ONLY released in 1:85.1 and that was how it was shot and how it was framed by Welles and Russell Metty. There's no arguing - it's fact. People prefer all sorts of things, for reasons of personal preference, but since those people didn't make the film and since 90% or more never saw it when it came out, I don't exactly know why they'd want to see it in a form it was not composed for.

    #4 of 79 OFFLINE   Russell G

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    Posted September 29 2008 - 10:44 AM

    Can't wait for this too arrive, I never did see the restored cut. Great review!

    #5 of 79 OFFLINE   Patrick McCart

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    Posted September 29 2008 - 02:41 PM

    Pre-ordered already. I've been on a Welles kick lately (just got Criterion's Mr. Arkadin in Amazon's 60% off sale). The '98 DVD is quite soft (almost looks upscaled), so I hope this is a bit sharper. It's going to be fun seeing the multiple cuts.

    #6 of 79 OFFLINE   Dan McW

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    Posted September 29 2008 - 03:23 PM

    Was that the same transfer used for the 2000 Universal DVD? When I watched the 2000 DVD on a friend's home-theater system last year, everything looked a little fuzzy and way too gray (little to no contrast). If the reviewer above hadn't said this was a "crisp" transfer, I'd be worried by his subsequent statement that the transfer is the "same" as the 2000 one. Maybe others had a different experience with that DVD, but my copy didn't do the film justice on a big screen.

    #7 of 79 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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    Posted September 29 2008 - 04:27 PM

    I did not find the transfer on the 2000 DVD to be a "soft" one. Given the age of the materials, I didn't expect this to look like a Blu-ray of CARS or 300. But I had no problems with the transfer - it looked very much to me like the one on the 2000 disc, which I also did not have issues with. It sounds like there are people who didn't like the transfer on the 2000 disc. I honestly wasn't one of them. When I say "crisp", I mean that I was able to delineate the differences between foreground and background, between people and objects and buildings, and that the numerous shadow effects on display in the film came across clearly. Would a transfer of a more current film look sharper? Absolutely, but it simply isn't possible to get anything more than what Universal was able to provide Schmidlin 10 years ago. If the consensus is that this is a terrible transfer, I'll be happy to go through it again and see if I need to check my glasses. But I really didn't have that problem.

    #8 of 79 OFFLINE   David_B_K


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    Posted September 30 2008 - 02:15 AM

    I've pre-ordered it. It's a great idea to combine all these additions. One really cannot appreciate the new version without having seen the old version(s). In some ways, I preferred some of the cutting of the middle portion of the picture in the old version to the recut version. Looks to be great package. I do not remember the 200 DVD looking bad, and will give it a look tonight.

    #9 of 79 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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    Posted September 30 2008 - 05:01 AM

    Another thing to keep in mind: Even if we differ about our opinions on the quality of the transfer (and I've gone round and round on this on other films before - where I either gave a better quality review to a transfer that someone else didn't like, or where I didn't care for a transfer that other people pointed out was better than I was giving credit for), there still is the matter of the bonus features here. The commentaries alone are worth the purchase cost, in my opinion. Having Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh sit down and speak frankly about how the shoot went and what they were doing is a gift to any fan of the film. And given that neither actor is with us today, I'm just happy that we were finally able to get the fruits of what was originally assembled 8 years ago. If the release just had all three versions by themselves with nothing extra, it would have been a good release just for the comparison. Adding the commentaries makes it irresistable for me. And adding the featurettes with Curtis Hanson's tour is a nice grace note.

    #10 of 79 OFFLINE   dannyboy104


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    Posted September 30 2008 - 05:50 AM

    This new version looks like it is still missing the great documentary " Reconstructing Evil The Making OF The Touch Of Evil ". This was dropped from the 2000 DVD release due to a legal rights issue . It was shown once on BBC2 in the UK on the 17/12/2000.It featured interviews with Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, George Lucas, RobertWise, Curtis Hanson and Peter Bogdanovich. A complete analysis of the reconstructed scenes and an in-depth explanation of the re-edits by the restored version's producer RickSchmidlin and editor Walter Murch

    #11 of 79 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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    Posted September 30 2008 - 06:51 AM

    I believe that "Reconstructing Evil" was re-edited into the featurettes on this edition. Heston, Leigh, Schmidlin, Murch, Lucas and Hanson are all included. I don't know what was edited out, but I was satisfied with what was there. And the litigation at the time also blocked the commentary. Thankfully, we're getting the material now. I'd be curious if anyone could confirm if something major were edited from the documentary. I am unable to post screencaps, as I'm a bit technically challenged in that area. (I've honestly never learned how to do that.) But if anyone else can post them, I'd be delighted. The discs are dual layered. The memo is just the 58 pages, double sided and stapled together in a reduced size, in a faux envelope. The only other material in the package is a color advertising insert in the discholder - showing classic movies available from Universal and TCM.

    #12 of 79 OFFLINE   David_B_K


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    Posted September 30 2008 - 06:53 AM

    That was indeed a great documentary. I am disappointed that it did not make it. Probably still the rights issue. Guess I'll have to hang onto my version recorded from Cinemax years ago. ---EDIT--- Just saw Kevin's last post that the material from the doc may be the basis for the featurettes. I'll compare them when my pre-order comes in.

    #13 of 79 OFFLINE   WadeM


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    Posted September 30 2008 - 11:06 AM

    Great movie. I've only seen the restored version though. Looking forward to the other ones for comparison.

    #14 of 79 OFFLINE   Patrick McCart

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    Posted September 30 2008 - 12:59 PM

    It shouldn't have anything to do with the film. Maybe the opening shot, which had digital work applied, but they sourced mostly the camera negative, I think. Not that anyone is expecting it to look brand new, but a 1958 B&W film should look great. The problems I see on the 2000 DVD are obviously related to the transfer and compression, not the film itself.

    Here's a screenshot:
    Posted Image

    The screen capture doesn't really show what it looks like in motion, but it just looks noise reduced and filtered to my eyes. A lot like how the '02 Rear Window was filtered, but the recent 2-disc is razor sharp with film grain.

    #15 of 79 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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    Posted September 30 2008 - 02:10 PM

    Patrick, I should be clear and acknowledge I am viewing these films on a 40" HDTV (a Sony XBR2 that I picked up about 2 years ago). I have had discussions on these pages before specifically about DNR - Robert Harris has stated that I would need to pick up a larger set (at least 60") to properly see the effects of DNR on a Blu-ray disc. Perhaps this is also the case for standard definition discs - I don't know. I just didn't see smearing in the shadows or anything like excessive filtration.

    I'll repeat that I believe that the transfer on the current edition is the same as the 2000 release. And I didn't have these issues with that transfer. Again, if the consensus is that this is a truly bad transfer, then I either need to get my eyes checked (always a possibility after spending too much time watching TV) or I need to check the settings on the HDTV, which I thought I had optimized. I believe this is a matter of differing opinions - which I find to be healthy in a forum like this. In an earlier review, I had issues with the old transfer used for the DVD release of Centennial, but other people were happily surprised by it.

    #16 of 79 OFFLINE   Fabian Kusch

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    Posted October 01 2008 - 04:47 AM

    If the new DVD features the same old transfer of TOUCH OF EVIL I'll be deeply disappointed.

    There are numerous examples of films from that era that look a lot better even on standard definition media. In my opinion Universal's 2000 transfer is really soft and shows little detail.
    Please look at these captions from the R1 and R2 again and tell me what's "crisp" about them:

    Touch of Evil - Orson Welles
    D V D u e l l . d e - DVD-Kritik "Im Zeichen des Bösen / Touch of Evil" [USA 1958, Orson Welles] Universal BRD, RC2 PAL

    Heck, the old DVD transfer looks almost as soft as that print taken from German cable (it features the incorrect open matte version of the film with a lot of contrast problems though).
    Look at page two of dvduell's comparison and compare TOE's opening Universal logo to that of CAPE FEAR (1962), made less that 5 years later, and you'll see what I would call a "crisp" transfer...

    #17 of 79 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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    Posted October 01 2008 - 05:29 AM

    Fabian, you may need to prepare to be deeply disappointed, I'm sorry to say. I have already given the best explanation I can for my review and my guidelines, including my definition of the word "crisp". I'm sorry if I can't provide better justification for it - but I recognize and respect that opinions will differ here. I have no reason to believe the transfer is any different from the 2000 edition - even Universal has not said anything about putting together a new transfer or remastering. It's the same one from the prior release - only now we have all three versions. I would still urge you to take a look at the supplemental material before condemning this release outright. I highly recommended not only for the quality of the film but for the commentaries and the included featurettes (which apparently come from the documentary mentioned in this thread).

    #18 of 79 OFFLINE   Fabian Kusch

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    Posted October 01 2008 - 06:19 AM

    I'm far from condemning the release. In fact, being a huge Welles fan and of this film in particular, I'll pick it up as soon as it's out. Having all three versions of the film (of which the preview version with Mancini's opening music intact is still my favourite) and some superlative supplemental materials is reason enough. I only wish Universal had really put some effort in restoring the image quality as closely to Welles' vision as they did in recutting the surviving material following his memo. I hope there'll be some side-by-side image comparison soon to really be sure about the quality of the transfers.

    #19 of 79 OFFLINE   Douglas R

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    Posted October 01 2008 - 07:39 AM

    Kevin - is the picture quality the same on all three versions? I agree with others that the picture quality of the previous DVD of the restored version was poor but I never cared for that version anyway. It's the other two versions which I am much more interested in.

    #20 of 79 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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    Posted October 01 2008 - 08:39 AM

    I believe that all three versions have the same picture quality. The opening sequence is visually the same on all three, other than the absence of credits on the restored version. The framing looked identical to me, and I certainly didn't notice any areas where there was massive distress in one version and absolute clarity in another.

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