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Touch of Evil(1958)
After a murder is committed in a small town right on the US-Mexico border a rogue cop from the US tries to frame his Mexican counterpart for it.
For more about Touch of Evil and the Touch of Evil Blu-ray release, see the Touch of Evil Blu-ray Review
Starring: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Dennis Weaver, Orson Welles, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Joseph Cotten
Director: Orson Welles
» See full cast & crew
Touch of Evil Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, October 23, 2011
Orson Welles's "Touch of Evil" (1958) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Eureka Entertainment. The supplemental features on the disc include the film's original theatrical trailer; featurettes with cast and crew interviews; and four audio commentaries. The disc also arrives with a lavish illustrated booklet featuring Francois Truffaut's review of "Touch of Evil"; an extract from Andre Bazin's book about Orson Welles titled "At Top Speed"; an excerpt from Terry Comito's essay "Touch of Evil" published in Film Comment; Orson Welles' essay "Ribbon of Dreams" and an interview with the American director; and notes about the different versions of the film as well as the different ratios they come with. In English and Spanish, with optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature. Region-B "locked".
The film takes place in a small town right on the Mexican-American border with plenty of cheap restaurants, bars, and striptease clubs. The regulars there are mostly shady characters who like to take advantage of the occasional rich tourists who visit the area.
Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston), a Mexican drug enforcement agent, and his American wife Susan (Janet Leigh) are casually strolling through the town. Eventually, they reach a border checkpoint. Moments after they enter the American side of the town, a car right in front of them suddenly blows up. The police immediately arrive on the scene and announce that Rudy Lanniker, the town's richest man, and his mistress were in the car.
American detective Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) takes over the case. At the scene he authoritatively announces that dynamite, possibly originating from Mexico, was used to kill Lanniker. Because his car came from the Mexican side of the town, Vargas becomes involved in the investigation. This seriously annoys Quinlan, who decides to make Vargas' life as miserable as possible so that he gets frustrated and goes back to taking care of his wife.
However, the more Quinlan tries to frustrate Vargas, the more interested the Mexican agent becomes in the case. This leads to a great deal of derision and animosity between the two. In the meantime, Susan is approached by Uncle Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff), a man with a dark past, whose brother, a drug trafficker, has been indicted thanks to Vargas and his colleagues.
The atmosphere in this film is absolutely incredible. Right from the beginning one is drawn into the seedy border town where nothing is what it seems. Everyone there has something to hide and danger is definitely in the air. It is difficult to explain with simple words precisely what it is, but there is something about the visuals that immediately convince one that in this film some really, really bad things will happen.
The film does have a lighter side, but the humor in it is remarkably dry and notably cold. In fact, at times it almost feels as if the humor is meant to insult as much as it is meant to brighten up things a bit. There are a couple of scenes that also carry more than a whiff of racism.
The cast is superb. Welles is incredible as the obese and grotesque detective Quinlan, who simply cannot stand any competition. Heston is great as the Mexican agent, who accidentally stirs the hornet's nest (though he does not sound Mexican). Leigh looks sexy, elegant, and fittingly naive. Tamiroff, the famous Russian actor who played numerous villains during the 30s, 40s and 50s, is also remarkable as the shady Uncle Joe Grandi. There are some excellent cameos as well - a young Dennis Weaver as the "night man", Zsa Zsa Gabor as a nightclub owner, and the legendary Marlene Dietrich, who plays Tanya, a fortuneteller and detective Quinlan's former lover.
The cinematography is exquisite. Russell Metty's (Spartacus, Flower Drum Song) contrasty lensing is truly one of the key reasons why the film has been and still is so influential. The shadows, lighting, camera moves and composition are indeed superb.
Touch of Evil is also complimented by an equally influential soundtrack courtesy of multiple Oscar winner Henry Mancini (Breakfast at Tiffany's, Victor Victoria).
Touch of Evil Blu-ray, Video Quality
British distributors Eureka Entertainment's Blu-ray release of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil contains five versions of the film, all encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted 1080p transfers. We have take screencaptures from all five versions in the following order:
a) Screencaptures 1-22 (1998 Reconstruction Version, 1.37:1, 111 min).
b) Screencaptures 23-30 (1998 Reconstruction Version, 1.85:1, 111 min).
c) Screencaptures 31-35 (1958 Theatrical Version, 1.37:1, 95 min).
d) Screencaptures 36-37 (1958 Theatrical Version, 1.85:1, 95 min).
e) Screencaptures 38-39 (1958 Preview Version, 1.85:1, 109 min).
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"Reconstructed Version (1998) -- 1.37:1 & 1.85:1. This version was reconstructed by Walter Murch & Bob O'Neil, referring to notes from Orson Welles's 1957 memo. This 2010 HD transfer utilized a 35 mm Safety Composite Fine Grain (printed 6pts. Lite) – created at YCM Lab in 1998. The restored/reconstructed mono audio (SET188751) utilized as sources the "theatrical version" source DME (SET195468), the "preview version" print (SET107951), and an ADR line. The source for the opening scene music was taken from the body of the "theatrical version".
Theatrical Version (1958) • 1.37:1 & 1.85:1. This 2010 HD transfer utilized a 35mm Safety Composite Fine Grain (#2) (w/Extra R-7) – SET192840 – created in 1958. Reel 11 only is from a 35mm Safety Composite Fine Grain (#1) – SET192839 – also from 1958. Audio is sourced from a mono MAG – DME SET195468.
Preview Version (1957/1958) • 1.85:1. Also formerly referred to as the "Long" or "Extended Version", it derives from an old surviving 1957/1958 preview print which was an interim version of the film during the editing and re-editing process prior to release. A 35mm Silent Dupe Negative (printed in 1972 from a composite preview print, which dates back to 1957/1958) – SET240723. Audio has been restored from a studio print – SET107951 – as the source. It is a 2008 HD transfer."
I spent the last couple of days comparing the reconstructed 1.37:1 version of the film to the reconstructed 1.85:1 version of film, and at this point I lean towards the former as the more stylistically convincing one. It clearly has the Wellesian identity the director's previous films have (which, by the way, is also what is noted in the booklet) which is more appropriate here because the film simply "breathes" easier in 1.37:1. Obviously, this is strictly my personal opinion, and you could choose to watch the reconstructed 1.85:1 version instead if you happen to disagree. Since both versions of the film are included on this release, there shouldn't be any controversy.
The reconstructed 1.37:1 version looks very impressive. As I soon as I received the Blu-ray, I ran a few quick comparisons with my R1 SDVD release and can confirm that the upgrades in quality are indeed substantial. For example, during the close-ups there are various textures that are simply missing on the SDVD (some of the most impressive ones are with Janet Leigh in the motel). Also, the panoramic scenes look far crisper and clearer, and when the camera zooms blur is practically missing. The color-scheme is also far more convincing. The blacks are vibrant and well saturated, the variety of grays well balanced, and the whites gentle and natural (on the DVD, the whites are quite problematic). Furthermore, some careful noise corrections have been applied, but the film grain has been retained. Some of it isn't always well resolved, but strangely enough I was only able to tell while viewing the reconstructed 1.85:1 version (see screencapture #27). The most obvious examples were the ones where actually blocky noise would sneak in and overwhelm the grain. On the reconstructed 1.37:1 version, however, the effect was far less obvious. In fact, there are some truly impressive sequences there where the grain is very well resolved and the image quite striking (see screencapture #4). During the first half of the film, on the reconstructed 1.37:1 version there are some traces of mild sharpening. Some of them can be noticed when the film is projected on a large screen, but I personally doubt that the overwhelming majority of viewers will see them. These are minor issues and the overall integrity of the presentation is never jeopardized. Finally, the film has been thoroughly cleaned, but some extremely small negative wear/damage remains (see the tiny line in screencapture #12).
There are selected scenes in the theatrical versions that look slightly weaker. For example, I noticed some mild compressions artifacts that I did not see on the reconstructed versions. However, there are entire sequences that actually look on par with the best ones from the reconstructed versions (see screencaptures #34 and 35). Color reproduction is identical.
The preview version looks fine, but the reconstruction 1.37:1 version clearly has a marginally sharper, more vibrant look. Some close-ups look softer and noisier, but the panoramic shots actually compare quite well. Again, the color-scheme is identical to those of the other four versions of the film.
(Note: This is a Region-B "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-B or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Touch of Evil Blu-ray, Audio Quality
All five versions of Touch of Evil come with English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. tracks (with portions of Spanish). For the record, Eureka Entertainment have provided optional English SDH subtitles for each of them.
On the reconstruction versions the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track sounds excellent. The sound is crisp, vibrant, and dynamically surprisingly active. Henry Mancini's score has clearly benefited from the loseless treatment. The unique audio effects at the end of the film are also far more impressive. Various stabilizations have obviously been performed as well. As a result, the dialog is consistently crisp and stable. Additionally, there are no problematic pops or background hiss.
Touch of Evil Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Touch of Evil Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I can only echo the comments I left in our review of Silent Running - I hope that the recently announced collaboration between Eureka Entertainment and Universal Studios will last a long time so that we can see as many classic films transition to Blu-ray as possible. If the Blu-ray release of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, arguably one of the greatest noir films ever made, is a sign of things to come, then I am absolutely convinced that 2012 will be a very special year. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Touch of Evil: Other Editions
Touch of Evil Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Touch of Evil Blu-ray Officially Announced - August 25, 2011
Earlier today, independent British distributors Eureka Entertainment officially announced the Blu-ray release of Orson Welles' Touch Of Evil (1958). Often cited as one of the legendary director's greatest works, Touch of Evil will arrive on Blu-ray only as a special ...
Touch of Evil Blu-ray Screenshots
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