TOUCH OF EVIL 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION 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 Audio: 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. VIDEO QUALITY: 3/5 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.) AUDIO QUALITY: 3/5 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. SPECIAL FEATURES: 4/5 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.