Touch of Evil: The Reconstructed Cut in 4K Ultra HD

L-R: Orson Welles and Charlton Heston in Touch of Evil. Courtesy of Universal.

All three cuts of Touch of Evil, a film noir directed by Orson Welles, are available on 4K Ultra HD by way of Kino Lorber Studio Classics.

The new Kino Lorber 4K UHD release presents every cut of the film with a new Dolby Vision HDR master. I watched the reconstructed cut on Sunday since it is considered to be the definitive cut in the film. Walter Murch edits the film according to Welles’s original vision in his 58-page memo for the film. In fact. the following text precedes the film:

In 1957, Orson Welles completed principal photography on TOUCH OF EVIL and edited the first cut. Upon screening the film, the Studio felt it could be improved, shot additional scenes and re-edited it. Welles viewed this new version and within hours wrote a passionate 58-page memo requesting editorial changes. This version represents an attempt to honor those requests and make TOUCH OF EVIL the film Orson Welles envisioned it to be. “… I close this memo with a very earnest plea that you consent to this brief visual pattern to which I gave so many long hard days of work.” — Orson Welles

The film is based on the novel, Badge of Evil, by Whit Masterson. Right off the bat, one of the changes that Welles makes is to change the DA from a white guy to a Mexican. As for who is playing the attorney? Well, none other than Charlton Heston. Listen, you might be able to get away with this casting in a Black-and-White film in 1958 but it does not go today. Janet Leigh’s character also gets a nationality change, going from Mexican to American. For what it’s worth, Welles never read the book even though the film keeps the basic gist of the plot. But in making the specific changes in nationalities, it really adds something to the film when it comes to racism, specifically from the American point of view. You can especially see this in how Quinlan treats Mike Vargas and other Mexicans.

All changes not withstanding, Welles certainly has a way with the camera. There’s a few long takes in the film–one of which is when they interrogate Sanchez (Victor Millan) in his apartment. Meanwhile, Welles works with cinematographer Russell Metty to deliver a very impressive opening sequence utilizing a crane shot. In a sequence running over three minutes, the camera follows the bomb in Rudy Linnekar’s (Jeffrey Green) car, which kills both Rudy and wife Zita (Joi Lansing), before introducing both Miguel “Mike” Vargas (Charlton Heston) and wife Susan (Janet Leigh). Veteran police detective Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) arrives on scene shortly thereafter.

Vargas, the Mexican head of the Pan-American Narcotics Commission, suspects the Grandi narcotics ring. In suspecting the gang, he ends up harming Susan in the process as they take her to their headquarters. Meanwhile, Quinlan has it out for Vargas from the beginning. I would discuss the plot further but I don’t want to get into spoilers with everything going on. To say that this is a classic film noir is not an understatement.

Touch of Evil didn’t fare well upon its initial US release. It did better overseas in Europe but the box office failure was enough to prevent Hollywood studios from hiring Orson Welles ever again. Interestingly enough, this film would mark the return of Wells to Hollywood after a stint overseas in Europe. It wasn’t just studio work but he couldn’t even direct an indie film in the states. The film was innovative considering the era in which it was released–the sound and cinematography, in particular. For instance, look at how Metty lights the film as shadows are all over the place. The film noir genre’s visual style has Touch of Evil to thank for its contributions in sound and cinematography as Orson Welles and Russell Metty are a match made in heaven.

Bonus Features

  • Theatrical Cut (96 minutes)
    • NEW Audio Commentary by Film Historian Tim Lucas
    • Audio Commentary with Writer/Filmmaker F.X. Feeney
    • Theatrical Trailer (2:10)
  • Reconstructed Cut (111 minutes)
    • NEW Audio Commentary by Film Historian Imogen Sara Smith
    • Audio Commentary by Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Reconstruction Producer Rick Schmidlin
    • EVIL LOST AND FOUND: Featurette (17:06)
  • Preview Cut (109 minutes)
    • Audio Commentary with Orson Welles historians Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore
    • BRINGING EVIL TO LIFE: Featurette (20:59)

CAST: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor

Universal released Touch of Evil in theaters in February 1958. The reconstructed cut was released on September 11, 1998. Grade: 4.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.