Touch of Evil (1958) (Masters of Cinema) Blu Ray

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Considered by many to be the greatest B movie ever made, the original-release version of Orson Welles's film noir masterpiece Touch of Evil was, ironically, never intended as a B movie at all--it merely suffered that fate after it was taken away from writer-director Welles, then reedited and released in 1958 as the second half of a double feature. Time and critical acclaim would eventually elevate the film to classic status (and Welles's original vision was meticulously followed for the film's 1998 restoration), but for four decades this original version stood as a... testament to Welles's directorial genius. From its astonishing, miraculously choreographed opening shot (lasting over three minutes) to Marlene Dietrich's classic final line of dialogue, this sordid tale of murder and police corruption is like a valentine for the cinematic medium, with Welles as its love-struck suitor. As the corpulent cop who may be involved in a border-town murder, Welles faces opposition from a narcotics officer (Charlton Heston) whose wife (Janet Leigh) is abducted and held as the pawn in a struggle between Heston's quest for truth and Welles's control of carefully hidden secrets. The twisting plot is wildly entertaining (even though it's harder to follow in this original version), but even greater pleasure is found in the pulpy dialogue and the sheer exuberance of the dazzling directorial style. --Jeff Shannon [show more]

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14 November 2011
Blu Ray 
Eureka Entertainment 
111 minutes 
  • Average Rating for Touch of Evil (1958) (Masters of Cinema) [Blu-ray] - 5 out of 5

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  • Touch of Evil (1958) (Masters of Cinema) [Blu-ray]
    Calvin MacKinnon

    Today, Orson Welles is regarded as the Shakespeare of cinema, topping both the critics and directors top ten directors lists in a Sight & Sound poll conducted in 2002. However, Welles' career was far from rosy and the only one of the five films he directed in Hollywood where he had creative control over the final cut is, perhaps not coincidentally the "official greatest film of all time", Citizen Kane. Of the others, by far the best is Touch of Evil, one of the last and greatest examples of film noir, starring Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Welles himself.

    Welles was originally slated to only star in the film but due to a miscommunication with Heston, Universal scrambled to sign him up as the director as well. Welles was eager to work in Hollywood again after spending some time in Europe, despite the fact that the studio system had resulted in the bastardisation of much of his work, most famously The Magnificent Ambersons which was cut down from 148 minutes in length to the mere 88 minutes that survive today. Nevertheless, Welles had high regard for Hollywood, praising the American technical arsenal as "a grandiose thing" but once again on Touch of Evil, the studio altered Welles' work without his permission. Thankfully, the cut footage wasn't lost like it was on Ambersons and in 1998 his vision was restored with the help of a detailed 58-page memo.

    The film opens with terrifically suspenseful scene where we see a mysterious individual place a bomb in a car. A couple enter the car and Welles almost suspends time by utilising a crane shot that tracks the car across the city - occasionally losing it before yet again picking it up. As the scene goes on the tension builds as we expect an explosion that seemingly will never happen, maybe the bomb was a dud? Until, finally, boom. So the scene is set for a typical detective story, where a good, honest cop tries to track down the shadowy killer? Almost. However, Touch of Evil turns out to be much more than that.

    The film is primarily a bitter, captivating psychological war between Vargas (Heston), a Mexican drug enforcement officers who involves himself in the case and Hank Quinlan, a long-serving American police Captain with a very impressive record. Quinlan is more than xenophobic, his racism frequently bubbling to the surface of his monstrous physique which represents his personality just as much as his hateful words. Welles always was a master of lighting and in Touch of Evil the cinematography conveys Quinlan's abhorrent views by utilising high contrast imagery and displaying the Mexican cast in typically much darker lighting than their American counterparts. Vargas suspects that Quinlan plants evidence in order to convict his suspects, in retaliation the power-abusing Quinlan attempts to frame Vargas and his wife for crimes they didn't commit. Quinlan has become the embodiment of the 'corrupt Mexican' stereotype that he so despises, adding an element of irony to the film's racial subtext.

    Welles depicts Quinlan with a detestability that matches Harry Lime, a character Welles iconically played in Carol Reed's The Third Man but Quinlan is an altogether more human character, despite his more obscene physical attributes. Unlike Lime, Quinlan is a sympathetic character - a monster created by circumstance rather than the pursuit of wealth - his wife was murdered years earlier by a "half-breed" whom Quinlan was unable to convict due to lack of evidence.

    Touch of Evil is perhaps the greatest example of Welles' unparalleled talent for cinema - besides directing and starring in the picture he also wrote the screenplay just from the basic premise of the "very bad" script that was originally given to him. In actual fact, the film is based on the novel Badge of Evil written by Whit Masterson that Welles would later claim he never even read until after he directed the film. Whether or not the claim is true, the film is an outstanding work - a dark, atmospheric noir masterpiece that displays Welles' artistic innovation just as much as the earlier Citizen Kane and reminded Hollywood of his brilliance. However, as is always the case, Hollywood didn't quite like art as much as it liked money and Welles would never direct there again. In the film, a fortune teller tells Quinlan that his future "is all used up". Now, the prophecy has more poignancy.

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Please note this is a region B Blu-ray and will require a region B or region free Blu-ray player in order to play.  Touch of Evil begins with one of the most brilliant sequences in the history of cinema; and ends with one of the most brilliant final scenes ever committed to celluloid. In between unfurls a picture whose moral, sexual, racial, and aesthetic attitudes remain so radical as to cross borders established not only in 1958, but in the present age also. Yet, Touch of Evil has taken many forms. The film as released in 1958 was certainly compromised from Orson Welles' vision, but a brilliant and lengthy memo written by Welles to studio heads in 1957 - taking issue with a studio rough-cut - had some influence on a subsequent preview version shown to test audiences (and rediscovered in the mid-1970s) as well as the 1958 theatrical version. Forty years later, in 1998, Universal produced a reconstructed version of the film that takes into meticulous account the totality of Welles' memo, and ostensibly represents the version of the film that most closely adheres to his original wishes. Charlton Heston portrays Mike Vargas, the Mexican chief of narcotics who sets out to uncover the facts surrounding a car bomb that has killed a wealthy American businessman on the US side of the border. As Vargas investigates, his newly-wed wife Susie (Janet Leigh, two years before Hitchcock's Psycho) is kidnapped by a gang out to exact vengeance for the prosecution of the brother of their leader (Akim Tamiroff). Meanwhile, Vargas' enquiries become progressively more obfuscated by the American cop Hank Quinlan (played by Welles himself, in one of the most imposing and unforgettable screen performances of his career), a besotted incarnation of corruption who alternately conspires with Susie's captors and seeks solace in the brothel of the Gypsy madame (Marlene Dietrich) who comforted him in bygone times. Welles' final studio-system picture has at last become secure in its status as one of the greatest films ever made. It remains a testament to the genius of Welles -- a film of Shakespearean richness, inexhaustible. Actors Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, Akim Tamiroff, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Joseph Calleia, Joanna Moore, Ray Collins, Dennis Weaver, Valentin de Vargas, Mort Mills, Victor Millan, Lalo Rios, Michael Sargent & Phil Harvey Director Orson Welles Certificate 12 years and over Year 1958 Screen Fullscreen 1.37:1 / Widescreen 1.85:1 Languages English Subtitles English for the hearing impaired Closed Captions Yes Duration 1 hour and 51 minutes (approx)

Orson Welles writes, directs and stars in this classic film noir. Set in a hellish Mexican border town, Charlton Heston stars as Mike Vargas, a self-righteous narcotics officer who goes up against the monumental Captain Hank Quinlan (Welles), an old-time detective who fabricates evidence in order to close a case based on his gut instinct. After an American businessman is killed by a car bomb, Vargas abandons his honeymoon to investigate. When he discovers the corrupt Quinlan planting evidence, Vargas decides to delve further into the captain's previous cases but he soon finds out first-hand the extreme lengths Quinlan will go to to preserve his reputation.