Sunday Matinee: Touch Of Evil

touch of evilI can’t believe that I haven’t written about Orson Welles’ 1958 masterpiece Touch of Evil yet. Fortunately Universal Studios has just recently released Touch of Evil on blu-ray.

Touch of Evil was one Orson Welles work for hire jobs. There are two stories that circulate over why Welles returned to work for Hollywood. One story was that Charlton Heston was only interested in starring in the film if Welles directed it. The other was that Welles had told the producer to give him the worst script that he had and Welles would make a great movie out of it.

Charlton Heston stars as Mexican drug enforcement officer who has just recently married American Janet Leigh. While crossing the American / Mexican border for ice cream, they witness a car exploding. Because the murder took place on the American side, police captain Orson Welles is investigating the case. Heston isn’t sure of Welles. Welles quickly decides that the culprit is a young Mexican who was involved with the deceased’s daughter. While checking the suspect’s apartment, Welles finds dynamite, linking the suspect to the crime. Heston starts to suspect that Welles planted the evidence. Welles starts to take some desperate measures to silence Heston.

Welles had turned the film in to Universal on time but the studio wasn’t happy with Welles’ cut. They reedited it and added new scenes that Welles didn’t direct. Welles original cut was lost but at the time Welles viewed the new cut and sent Universal a 58 page memo on how he would fix the film. The memo detailed how Welles wanted the film cut, the music cues and such. Universal ignored the memo and released the movie in the shorter cut to dismal box office returns.

In the 1970’s a longer cut was discovered by Universal who assumed to was Welles’ original cut. They released this cut in limited release to critical acclaim. This version was the version that Universal released on VHS. It was then discovered that it wasn’t Welles’ cut, it was a preview cut that post dated the memo but predated the finally theatrical cut. In 1998 Universal decided to restore the film based on Welles’ memo. This version was released on DVD in 1999. The recent blu-ray contains all the versions, the 1998 version is the best cut but it’s awesome that Universal released all three versions. The movie is excellent, from the opening three minute twenty second tracking shot to the final shoot out this is my favourite Welles movie, Citizen Kane be damned.

Author: Shane Hnetka

Shane Hnetka spends most of his life watching movies and reading comic books, using his vast knowledge of genre culture for evil instead of good.

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