Welles' bravula mise en scene, with the help of Russel Metty's startling black-and-white lighting and stunning camera movement, transform Venice, California into a chaotic frontier town between the US and Mexico. Charlton Heston, often refereed to as the most wooden actor in American cinema, gives a performance of his life as a Mexican cop. His casting may sound funny, but please forget that it's the same guy who played BEN HUR and Moses in the TEN COMMANDMENTS watching this movie then his highly energetic, rather over-the-top performance is actually convincing, especially as opposed to Welles' deliciously vicious portrayal of a corrupted American cop. It was actually Heston who suggested Universal that Welles would not only act in this film but also direct it, so you should give him some credit. Janet Leigh plays Heston's all-American wife "from Philadelphia", and is also quite marvelous in the way she turns out to be something else that we first think she is. With Hitchcock's PSYCHO and Anthony Mann's THE NAKED SPUR, this is probably her best performance. Metty's contrasty black-and-white photography also makes her very beautiful. She looks always better in blacho and white than in color, don't you think so?
This unorthodox casting works, because the film is a bigger than life caricature. It is often unbelievably funny indeed, which makes the viewer unconfortable because the thematic matter treated in this film is certainly not a humorous one. Of course that was Welles' intention, to challenge and provoke the audience. The magnificent supporting cast including Welles' favorite actors Ray Collins and Joe Cotten (from the Mercury Theatre and CITIZEN KANE) and Akim Tamirof hightens the caricature nature of the film. Joseph Caleia who plays Welles' side-kick proves to be a marvelous actor, one of the best performance in the entire Welles filmography (that is, from another actor than Orson himself). The dark hummour of the film reaches one of the darkest, poignant criticism about justice and how the idea is executed in reality. How much is it allowed for a police officer to execute justice, what is the thin line between justice and the abuse of justice that leads to fascism and a police state? This important question in our modern society is the theme Welles attacks in this film. But as in most of Welles great achievments, the political/social concerns turns out to be only one aspect of the story. It also becomes deeply deeply emotional in the way it becomes a personal moral conflict as well.
There used to be two versions of the film. The one hour and a half theatrical released version and the nearly two hours restored version. Though the longer version includes shots that were not done by Welles and Metty, the story is more comprehensible and Welles often proclaimed that he preferred the longer one (it was Universal who made the retakes and made the longer version, and why they did not released this one is a big mystery). But in the early 90's, a memo by Welles suggesting re-editing the 110 minutes version was discovered. So this so-called newly restored version (which should be called a re-construction since this version never existed; a great injustice that Welles was not allowed to touch the footage he himself had directed) was made, which is now on this DVD; with a beautiful digital wide-screen transfer that captures the deep blacks, menacing shadows and brilliant whites of Russel Metty's cinematography.
The heaviest changes are made on the sequence that you might have imagined no re-editing could be done; the celebrated 3 minutes long take which opens the film. This newly reconstructed version (and Welles' memo reproduced as a supplement of this DVD) confirms one important aspect of Welles' works that he was almost obsessive about, but few critics have been noticing; his close attention in the use of sound. You can also notice his obbsession about making a film that sound distinctively different from conventional movies by listening to the audio commenatary by Bogdanovich on THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI-DVD (and reading the huge book of Welles-Bogdanovich interview edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum THIS IS ORSON WELLES; check the amazon.com bookstore!).
Some TOUCH OF EVIL fanatics may regret that the famous Henry Manicini's opening theme music is now gone, but one has to admit that in the way Welles envisioned, the opening long take becomes far more powerful. As a stylish echnical tour-de-force as it is, the opening shot has now an almost documentary feeling about it, so immediate and raw, which obviously must have been the touch that Welles intended in this picture.
Though there are not too many obvious changes made in what you see from the former restored version (except that most of the explanatory re-takes done by Harry Keller are mostly gone now), what you hear is very different and the atmosphere you get from the entire film is now something else. The film that used to be concerned as the ultimate example of Welles stylism has now became a great example of Welles' realism. His "realism" is something different from Rossellini's realism or Ken Loach realism. I would venture to say it's closer to something like Scorsese realism or Oliver Stone realism (if Orson were alive today, he ceratinly would have worked with Robert Richardson as his DP), and this amazing realistic feeling you get from the new TOUCH OF EVIL will certainly blow your mind away, even to those whom who have seen the movie for more than 20 times.
Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, and to a lesser extent Othello, in those films he did it right, but something went... Read more