Every once in a while it is just so incredibly important to kick up your feet and embrace a classic as you are wading through the deep waters of the new releases that hit the rack each and every week. In a brand new remastered package and on Blu-Ray for the very first time, "Touch of Evil" is one of those definitive film noir that will sustain through time even though Orson Welles fought tooth and nail to even get it made close to his original vision and is presented here with all three cuts of the film, including the one that is thought to be closest to his original vision for the film that still included Charlton Heston as a Mexican.
Based on the novel "Badge of Evil" by Whit Masterson, this dark portrait of corruption that borders on and crosses into the realm of being morally compromising and overwhelmed by a variety of obsessions tells the story of a murder on the border between Mexico and the United States of a wealthy American building contractor who just crossed the border returning from Mexico when his car exploded. At the scene of the crime, Miguel 'Mike' Vargas (Charlton Heston) a prominent Mexican lawman on his honeymoon with his new bride (Janet Leigh) sees the whole thing and gets roped into the investigation, much to the chagrin of local lawman Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) who has his own way of doing things and doesn't take kindly to outsiders. It doesn't take long for Vargas to see how Quinlan operates and when he sees how a potentially innocent young Mexican man is getting railroaded into confessing into a crime he may not have committed, Vargas and his wife find themselves getting in the way of a crooked cop and a drug lord who want them out of their border town by any means necessary.
Simply the penultimate film noir whose back lot history is just as rich as the narrative itself, "Touch of Evil" is simply a masterpiece of filmmaking even in the face of studio interference and overt creative control. Welles is simply a master of suspense as he allows this pulp filled yarn to unfold at such a deliberate and specific pace that we can't help but get lost in it all. The dialogue is so thick you could cut it like a knife and it has such a distinct visual style starting off with such a distinct continuous tracking shot that opens the film and it is truly like candy for the eyes as we loop in and out of these seedy streets trying to solve the mysteries and navigate the deception that is evident at every turn.
While I am the first to admit that Charlton Heston as a Mexican isn't the best piece of casting at first glance, the material in this film is just so damn good that it is easily overlooked. He just works as the stalwart lawman Vargas who simply will not turn a blind eye to the kind of corruption that is running rampant in that border town. Welles in one his more underrated performances ever seemingly oozes sleaze as Hank Quinlan, and his back and forth with Heston is simply epic as it makes for some stellar cinema. Janet Leigh is fine and his wife and a plethora of supporting players like Joseph Calleia, Ray Collins, a young Dennis Weaver and Marlene Dietrich along with Zsa Zsa Gabor and some much need colour while the likes of Keenan Wynn and long time Welles collaborator Joseph Cotten even make some memorable cameos.
Picture and sound quality are first rate on this Blu-Ray and special features include all three cuts of the film; The Theatrical Cut, The Preview Version which had some elements that Welles approved of before the studio cuts and the Reconstructed Cut and is his original vision based on the 58 page memo that he sent to the studio requesting his changes. The memo is also included as a special feature along with a retrospective documentary about the film, a behind the scenes look at how the film was reconstructed and how the three different versions came about as well as four feature length commentary tracks on the film.
A much ballyhooed and discussed film, and no matter which cut you watch there's actually a quote from another film, "Get Shorty" when Travolta's character was watching the film which was "Sometimes you just do the best work when you have a gun to your head". On "Touch of Evil", that's exactly the situation that Welles was in, and that's exactly what he did as this film deserves every accolade that has and will be thrown at it.
5 out of 5 stars.
"Touch of Evil" is now available on DVD and now on Blu-Ray from all major retailers.