Touch of Evil crosses the border to Blu-ray with an edition that provides impeccable HD picture to three variations of the movie while preserving all the bonus features from 2008’s 50th Anniversary Edition DVD. The film, Orson Welles’ last opportunity to work with a major studio, continues to show Welles’ ability to stage bravura sequences and summon indelible performances from a wildly varied cast. This edition, complete with Welles’ infamous 1957 Memo and multiple scene-specific commentaries, is a classic example of a “Film School on a Disc”. Students of film history, fans of Orson Welles, and aficionados of bold filmmaking will want to purchase this as soon as they can. This release is Highly Recommended.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: Not Rated, PG-13
Run Time: 1 hr 36 mins (Theatrical Release), 1 hr 49 mins (Preview Cut), 1 hr 51 mins (Reconstruction Cut)
Package Includes: Blu-ray, Digital Copy, UltraViolet
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 04/15/2014
Before I begin the review proper, I need to thank Joe Kane, for allowing me to bring this Blu-ray to his professional grade system for evaluation, and I also must thank Robert A. Harris for accompanying me on this task. I’m grateful to both men for giving me the opportunity to do so, and I thank them for their generosity, graciousness, good counsel and most of all for their patience. For the record, Joe’s system is the Samsung SP-A 900, an HD projector that he designed, and the screen is a Daylight Affinity .9 Gamma that is 90” (7 ½ feet wide), also of his design. Joe’s system is calibrated to the nth degree, and is set up to allow whatever information is on a Blu-ray disc to be transmitted to the screen and speakers at around 90% - meaning that the system passes through the information without trying to reinterpret the signal. Sitting comfortably at a distance of 8 feet from the 90” screen, we were were able to evaluate all 3 versions of the movie as projected. I should note that Joe’s projector has a special “carbon arc” setting, that allows the viewer to watch a black and white movie with the proper warmth.
The Production Rating: 4/5
The following review quotes a bit from my 2008 review of the 50th Anniversary Edition DVD, but I have made some adjustments to address the obvious improvement for the new Blu-ray release.
Touch of Evil gets a first class treatment from Universal on Blu-ray, complete with lovely high definition transfers for all three versions of the film on the single disc. It is my belief that the theatrical and preview cuts are presented together via seamless branching, but the 1998 Reconstruction cut is a completely different kettle of fish. All three look terrific. As with the 2008 DVD, care has been taken to present the film in the best possible condition, as well as to carry over the extensive supplements found in the 2008 package. 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 Blu-ray edition includes all three versions of the film on a single 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 original 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 at that time.) 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 2008 DVD contained all three versions, the commentaries, the trailer, the featurettes and a stapled copy of the memo in the DVD packaging. The Blu-ray edition includes all the same content, only now the memo is presented in a more easily readable bound copy.
I’ll stress here that the new HD transfers of the movie, done in 4K over a year ago, have resulted in an extremely pleasing picture for whichever version of the movie you choose to watch. The mono soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD but without trying to gussy up the sounds or project them into multiple channels. Quite simply, this is the best presentation ever made for this movie, and it’s an obvious one to recommend for purchase. This Blu-ray is Highly Recommended for purchase.
Touch of Evil is presented in a 1.85:1 1080p AVC encode (@ an average 18 mbps on all three versions) that provides an extremely satisfying high definition picture. Grain is visible along with plenty of detail. Watching this edition offers an experience as close as one can imagine to sitting in a movie theater watching the film being projected. I should note that there are two different transfers to see here. One is for the 1998 Reconstruction, which is radically different throughout the movie and would never be able to be seamlessly branched from the others. The second transfer is for both the Theatrical Release version and the longer Preview Version, which simply adds another 13 minutes of footage. Given the two transfers, you may see minor differences here and there as some viewers have noted in various forums. I will also note that as with the 2008 DVD, the movie is presented solely in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Without getting into the endless discussions of various people’s opinions about the ratio, we understand that this is the proper ratio in which to view the movie.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
Touch of Evil gets an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix (@ an average 1.8 mbps), 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.
Audio Rating: 5/5
As with the 2008 50th Anniversary DVD, the Blu-ray of 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.
Special Features Rating: 5/5
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.)
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.
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.
Bringing Evil to Life (20:58, 4x3, 480p) – 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, noting that Welles committed a major no-no and never got to direct a studio picture again in the United States.) (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, 4x3, 480p) – 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, 4x3, 480p) – As with the 2008 DVD, 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.
Digital/Ultraviolet Copy – The packaging has an insert that contains instructions for downloading a digital or ultraviolet copy of the movie.
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. I should note that the disc menu is structured so that you must select which version of the movie you wish to view before you can proceed further. Once you get to the specific version, then you have access to a chapter menu and an extras menu that includes the featurettes, the trailer and the appropriate commentary.
As I noted in 2008, with this Blu-ray, Touch of Evil gets a truly special collector’s edition for its debut in high definition. I am pleased to Highly Recommend it as a find for fans of the film, Orson Welles, or cinema in general.
Overall Rating: 5/5
Reviewed By: Kevin EK
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