Touch of Evil Blu-ray Review
The timer is set by a faceless man, who then rushes to a nearby car and plants the bomb in the trunk. A couple gets in and drives off towards the border. Cops halt them so locals can get where they need to be. They drive past another man and woman, newlyweds, out for a stroll. The newlyweds stop at customs right next to the couple in the car. “I got this ticking noise in my head,” the woman in the passenger seat complains, before the customs officer waves them through to the States. The newlyweds stop in the middle of the street to embrace: “Do you realize I haven’t kissed you in over an hour?” Then the bomb goes off. And that’s only in the opening shot.
A million questions are thrown around. One of those immediately involved is Miguel “Mike” Vargas (Charlton Heston, the year before he would star in William Wyler’s BEN-HUR), a drug enforcement official with the Mexican government. Another is his wife, Susie (Janet Leigh, two years away from her iconic role in PSYCHO), who certainly had grander ideas for the honeymoon than a murder investigation. Another is Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles, in one of his most recognizable performances), a police chief with his suspicions on a local named Sanchez (Victor Millan, which is a stage name for Joseph Brown), who was the son-in-law of the now-deceased driver. There are many more characters mixed in and out of the border locations, but it’s the rivalry between Vargas and Quinlan that is at the core.
Based on Whit Masteron’s 1956 novel “Badge of Evil,” TOUCH OF EVIL was Orson Welles’ eighth feature film and, like many of his films, was a victim of the studio (in this case, Universal). To date, three versions of TOUCH OF EVIL have been released in one form or another: the initial theatrical version, the 1976 preview version and the 1998 reconstructed version, considered to be the “definitive cut.” Any cut, though, will reveal a genius illustrating that, even nearly two decades after his “peak,” he was still a master of the craft.
In TOUCH OF EVIL, there are good characters, but it’s the bad that run the show. That explains why Quinlan is shot in angles that make him so large (insert your own joke regarding Welles’ weight here) and why so much of the film takes place either at night or in rooms (hotels, bars, etc.) that are dimly lit and bathed in shadows.
While TOUCH OF EVIL stands as a significant achievement in the directorial career of Welles, it is not without its flaws. First, there is the much-discussed casting of Heston as a Mexican, which stands alongside the choice to have John Wayne play Ghengis Khan as one Hollywood’s most befuddling casting decisions (it was even later used as a punchline in ‘movies such as ED WOOD and GET SHORTY). And then there is the character of Susie, who isn’t very fleshed out and seems to exist only as a pawn.
It’s certainly not a coincidence that neither of the two biggest faults of the film don’t come from the antagonist.
TOUCH OF EVIL BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.85:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. There aren’t any significant differences in quality between the three offered versions, so this review will offer remarks that serve all of them. As was the case with the Limited Edition of DOUBLE INDEMNITY (also released on 4/15), the high-definition presentation of TOUCH OF EVIL looks absolutely stellar. While there are some instances of damage, they seem to stem from the print. Overall, though, the video is pristine, featuring strong details/textures and excellent contrast while still maintaining a filmic look that purists will love.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono; English Dolby Digital 2.0. Subtitles in English, Spanish and French. There are a few noticeable differences between the three versions in regards to the audio, so each transfer has slightly different benefits that major fans of TOUCH OF EVIL will want to experience. (Example: the Reconstructed Version contains additional work by editor Walter Murch, while the others do not.) With each version, though, the transfers wonderfully capture the mood of the film and create a balance between the dialogue, music and effects.
Reconstructed Version (1 hr. 51 mins.), Theatrical Version (1 hr. 36 mins.), Preview Version (1 hr. 49 mins.)
Commentary with Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and reconstruction producer Rick Schmidlin: Available on the Reconstructed Version. Schmidlin spends a good amount of his time asking both Heston and Leigh questions regarding the production, which allows the actors to reflect on the film.
Commentary with reconstruction producer Schmidlin: Available on the Reconstructed Version. In this solo track, Schmidlin allows himself to go much more in depth on TOUCH OF EVIL and, more specifically, the history of the version at hand.
Commentary with writer/filmmaker F.X. Feeney: Available on the Theatrical Version. Feeney, who has also appeared on commentaries for films such as CLEOPATRA and THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, provides a terrific commentary where he details the production and themes of TOUCH OF EVIL.
Commentary with Orson Welles historians Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore: Both men are clearly huge fans of both Welles and TOUCH OF EVIL, and so this track is a highly enjoyable one that boasts a wealth of background information for anyone listening that may not have read any of the commentators’ books.
Bringing Evil to Life (20:59): In this retrospective featurette, interviewees including Heston, Leigh, director Peter Bogdanovich and more sit down to discuss the making of TOUCH OF EVIL.
Evil Lost & Found (17:06): This featurette, which can also be found on the 50th Anniversary Edition DVD, explores the various cuts of the film.
Orson Welles’ Legendary 58-Page Memo to the Studio