4K UHD Review: Touch of Evil [Kino Lorber] | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Touch of Evil

Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

May 27, 2022 Bookmark and Share

When a car bomb detonates on the opposite side of U.S.-Mexico border, Tijuana criminal prosecutor Miguel Vargas (Charlton Heston) takes a personal interest in the gangland killing—leaving behind his new wife, Susie (Janet Leigh), and putting their honeymoon on pause. Vargas has a sneaking suspicion that American police detective Quinlan (director/screenwriter Orson Welles) is trying to frame an innocent man for the crime, and that his past cases may have been tainted with similar corruption. Unfortunately, Quinlan’s a local hero—one of the most respected cops in his county—and there are regional mobsters willing to kidnap Vargas’ fiancée in order to keep the honest prosecutor out of their way.

Touch of Evil, like oh so many projects Orson Welles was involved with, couldn’t make it into theaters without a heavy dose of studio tomfoolery. Seemingly unable to follow the way the Welles’ initial version cut back and forth between Heston’s story and Janet Leigh’s, Universal brought their stars back for re-shoots (sans Welles) and put together an entirely different version of the movie, where the characters’ individual stories played out more linearly and with fewer interruptions. Shown the new version, Welles banged out a 58-page memo breaking down all of the changes he recommended that would improve Universal’s cut, which went ignored—a shortened version went out to theaters in early 1958, and was met with largely mixed reviews.

As time went on, though, and critics and filmmakers continued to beat the drum for Welles’ secondary efforts, Touch of Evil came to be regarded a mishandled classic. Critics praised the film for its bold cinematography, and started to question what Touch of Evil might have looked like had its director been allowed to see his vision through. By 1998, a team of Welles admirers (including Walter Murch) had worked together on a new cut of the movie for its 40th anniversary, doing their best to follow Welles’ 58-page instruction booklet using what materials survived the decades. This version was soon made available on home video, and helped the film to its current reputation as a film noir masterpiece.

Kino Lorber’s new 4K UHD release of Touch of Evil includes three different cuts of the movie: the reconstructed version from 1998 which runs 111 minutes, the 96-minute theatrical cut, and the studio’s “preview” version that sits in between the two at 109 minutes. Of the three, the reconstructed version is obviously the way to go; modern audiences are far more equipped to follow the way Welles cut between his characters’ stories than viewers evidently were in the 1950s. (The fact that you can watch the movie’s meticulously-choreographed opening—where a car travels through a crowded street without anyone but the viewers knowing that a timebomb is ticking away in its trunk—without titles blocking your view is enough to make this cut the superior version alone.) But still, having all three makes it possible for the home viewer to make their own comparisons, and there’s plenty of bonus content—from two archival documentaries from the DVD release, to *five* feature-length audio commentaries—that speak to the many ways each cut differs from the others.

Each of the three versions of the movie comes on its own 4K disc, in restorations that are absolutely stunning. Welles’ masterful if unorthodox (for the time) use of lighting and shadows, interesting angles and camera movement can are easy to appreciate in the deep contrast provided by ultra hi-def. It’s a significant leap in picture quality from the older Blu-ray releases and, not for nothing, comes in a much more attractive package that utilizes some classic poster artwork rather than a photoshop collage. This is a must-have for Welles and film noir fans.



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