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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Touch of Evil (Limited Edition) (4K UHD Review)


The Film
The Video (Overall)
HDR Effect
The Audio
The Supplements


Murder, corruption, and kidnapping in a Mexican border town as one dubious American detective and one Mexican detective investigate after a car bombing.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Auteur, genius, master, innovative – whatever label one might apply to director Orson Welles, that it even applies in the case of Touch of Evil is a testament to the truth of it given the provenance of this film. From a screenplay based on the novel Badge of Honor that Welles threw together in just days, it took decades for Touch of Evil to reach audiences in a version that most closely mirrored what Welles wanted. A rough cut prompted Universal to make changes that Welles wasn’t happy with, causing him to quickly fire off a 58-page memo ardently arguing for certain changes to be implemented. A longer preview version was then created incorporating some of Welles’ requested changes, but still including some things he didn’t want, such as newly filmed connecting scenes that only seemed to confuse the story further. When the preview version did not test well amongst audiences, the studio further cut the film down to 96-minutes. This was the theatrical release that was seen for nearly two decades, until the preview release was rediscovered in the 1970s. That preview version, considered closer to Welles’ original vision then became the version most screened for the following decades, until a reconstructed version was undertaken in 2008 using as the guideline the Welles 58-page memo.

The story itself is a film noir tale that finds a skinny-mustachioed Charlton Heston in brownface playing the American-educated Mexican chief of narcotics who sets out to investigate a car bombing that killed two people on a border town. As Vargas’ investigation deepens, his new American wife (Janet Leigh) is harassed and later kidnapped by a gang of thugs led by a man (Akim Tamiroff) looking to stop Vargas from prosecuting his brother. Meanwhile, as Vargas gets closer to uncovering the truth behind the bombing, his investigations are hindered by the increasing obstacles placed before him by the gruff American detective Hank Quinlan (played by Welles).

Touch of Evil is known for far more than its convoluted editorial history. The film itself was revolutionary, with Welles incorporating so many groundbreaking techniques that even the studio versions that he disavowed could not obfuscate his genius. The opening shot is a closeup of a man holding a bomb and the camera then follows a car through the streets of this Mexican border town, weaving through buildings and crowds, losing it and finding it again, until ultimately concluding in the explosion we’ve been anticipating from the very beginning. If you are watching the reconstruction, you will hear a carnival of changing soundscapes as the camera moves through the streets, from building to building, conversation to conversation – a radio wafting through an open window, music blasting out of a nightclub, and so on. The theatrical and preview editions give you film credits and Henry Mancini’s film score instead, but still cannot quash the brilliance of this scene. Welles also effectively used handheld cameras for an immediate feel throughout the film, something that seems run-of-the-mill to modern audiences, but was certainly groundbreaking in its day.

  • Marlene Dietrich in Touch of Evil (1958) Screen Grab
  • Janet Leigh in Touch of Evil (1958) Screen Grab
  • Janet Leigh in Touch of Evil (1958) Screen Grab
  • Orson Welles in Touch of Evil (1958) Screen Grab
  • Orson Welles in Touch of Evil (1958) Screen Grab
  • Orson Welles in Touch of Evil (1958) Screen Grab
  • Orson Welles in Touch of Evil (1958) Screen Grab
  • Charlton Heston in Touch of Evil (1958) Screen Grab
  • Janet Leigh in Touch of Evil (1958) Screen Grab
  • Orson Welles in Touch of Evil (1958) Screen Grab
  • Orson Welles in Touch of Evil (1958) Screen Grab
  • Orson Welles in Touch of Evil (1958) Screen Grab
  • Charlton Heston in Touch of Evil (1958) Screen Grab
  • Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh in Touch of Evil (1958) Screen Grab
  • Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh in Touch of Evil (1958) Screen Grab
  • Touch of Evil (1958) Screen Grab
  • Touch of Evil (Eureka_eka70501)

The Video

Touch of Evil comes to 4K Ultra HD in a brand new 4K HDR restoration. As far as I know, the original camera negative is still not available for this film, but the available source looks stunning here and is a big upgrade over the previously available Blu-ray release from Masters of Cinema, which I also reviewed. The grain structure is sharp and natural, the textures are palpable, from stubble to the deep wrinkles on Welles’ face. The Dolby Vision imparts stark contrast in the black and white imagery, with obsidian blacks and bright white levels, while presenting excellent ‘pop’ in specular highlights on bulbs, headlights, the sheen of light through a window or reflection on surfaces. Best of all, the stunning look of the flames in the aftermath of the early scene with the car that exploded.

Kino Lorber Studio Classics had released this on 4K in the united states previously and this Masters of Cinema edition from Eureka looks to be from the same restoration and 4K master, with a very slight edge going to the Kino Lorber set for being spread across three triple-layer discs (Eureka places all three versions on two discs) and having what seems to be a very, very slightly higher bitrate on the theatrical and preview versions. Variations in quality between both releases are minimal if any actually exist at all, however. Eureka has the advantage for having a better collection of bonus features.

The Audio

We get the original mono audio mix for each version of the film in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. This has a more defined center image than the previously available 2.0 mono release from Eureka, but it is a little full in sound. Otherwise, apart from the inherent weaknesses in the source, such as some limited clipping and a narrow dynamic range, it sounds as good as can be expected.

The Supplements

Limited Edition Features:

  • Hardcase featuring artwork by Tony Stella
  • A 100-page book featuring writings by Orson Welles, François Truffaut, André Bazin, and Terry Comito; interview excerpts with Welles; a timeline of the film’s history; two new essays by critic Richard Combs; and rare stills and imagery

Reconstructed Version Bonus Features:

  • Commentary with Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, and Rick Schmidlin (1999)
  • Commentary with Rick Schmidlin (2008)
  • Mathew Sweet on Touch of Evil (1080p; 00:17:09)
  • Tim Robey on Touch of Evil (1080p; 00:19:21)
  • Kim Newman on Touch of Evil (1080p; 00:27:17)
  • Bringing Evil to Life (upscaled 1080p; 00:21:02)
  • Evil Lost and Found (upscaled 1080p; 00:17:08)
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 00:02:11)

Theatrical Version (1958):

  • Commentary with F.X. Feeney (2008)

Preview Version (1958):

  • Commentary with James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum (2008)

The Final Assessment

This new 4K release of this masterpiece from Welles has now supplanted the previous Blu-ray release of the same film from Eureka as the definitive release. Although we lose the 1.37:1 versions of the films (and that debate still rages), we get all three cuts of the film in beautiful 4K restorations and a large selection of bonus features. Highly recommended for all collectors, cinephiles, and Orson Welles fans, even of you already own the Kino Lorber Studio Classics release.

Touch of Evil (Masters of Cinema) (Limited Edition) is out on 4K Ultra HD in the UK September 25, 2023, from Eureka Entertainment.

  • Rating Certificate: PG-13 (for some violence and drug content)
  • Studios & Distributors: Universal International Pictures | Universal Pictures | Eureka Entertainment
  • Director: Orson Welles
  • Written By: Orson Welles | Whit Masterson | Franklin Coen
  • Run Time: Theatrical Version (95 mins) | Preview version (109 mins) | 1998 Reconstruction (110 mins)
  • Street Date: 25 September 2023
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Video Format: HEVC 2160p (4K UHD)
  • HDR Format: Dolby Vision (HDR10 Compatible)
  • HDR10 Metadata:
    • MaxLL: 1007 nits
    • MaxFALL: 217 nits
  • Primary Audio: English DTS-HD MA 1.0
  • Subtitles: English SDH

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Murder, corruption, and kidnapping in a Mexican border town as one dubious American detective and one Mexican detective investigate after a car bombing.Touch of Evil (Limited Edition) (4K UHD Review)