"Touch of Evil" has long been considered an absolute classic. While the film went on, along with films like "The Big Sleep," to establish the "film noir" genre, with seedy characters, unconventionally complex plot lines, hidden motives and a dark, grimy tone. Nevertheless, Orson Welles, the film's director and one of its stars was never really happy with it. Welles, the creator of the cinematic masterpiece "Citizen Kane" sent a 58 page memorandum to the studio pleading for the studio to make drastic changes to the tone of the film to reconcile it with his artistic vision for the film. For many years after Welles' death, this memorandum sat. Finally, four decades after the film was released, the cuts and changes suggested by Welles were realized, and a new version of the film with these changes in place. That version is now out on DVD.
The story involves the investigation of a murder that takes place south of the border. Charlton Heston plays a Mexican narcotics officer who is involved in the investigation of the murder, and stumbles onto a tangled web of intrigue and possible corruption involving Hank Quinlan, a well respected and feared police chief played by Welles, who seems to a bit sleazy. Meanwhile, the narcotics officer's wife, played by Psycho scream queen Janet Leigh is strangely abducted and held as a pawn in the conflict.
Telling a story on film in a way that few films or filmmakers had either endeavored or even thought to employ, this film must be greatly appreciated for its boldness in the way that it explosively puts film noir on the map, as well as the tremendous artistic style which Welles employs in making this film. Perhaps one of the more famous film openings ever, Welles uses a single uninterrupted shot for the first five minutes of the film, introducing the characters and setting the scene leading up to the murderous explosion which brings the worlds of the two officers together. When the camera does break away, it sends the viewer into a world of intrigue and chaos with interesting, untrustworthy, dark characters to figure out exactly what happened and why. While the film is not always as intense and action-packed as many contemporary film noir masterpieces, the lineage that directly links this film and so many of the major noir films which followed it. Films such as "Chinatown," "L.A. Confidential," many of the films of Martin Scorcese and even the films of Quentin Tarantino seem to owe a debt to this film.
Despite being a black and white print and over forty years old, the transfer of "Touch of Evil" is a good one. The film is presented in Anamporphic Widescreen, with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The picture generally looks clear, and the subtleties of the lighting shine through well. Considering its age, this film looks great on DVD.
"A Touch of Evil" is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sound. The dialogue, music, and sound effects are all quite clear, and the viewer need not adjust the volume at any time to enjoy this film. Although the film is presented in mono the sound is generally clear throughout the film.
An extremely fine addition to the film, and a celebration of the fact that the medium of DVD allows for such things is the inclusion of the 58 page memorandum which Welles wrote to the studio directing what changes should be made to make the film better. While this would be a truly remarkable DVD if it included the original cut version, the memorandum and the new version, the memorandum allows the viewer to work backwards and appreciate the changes Welles fought to have made. The memorandum is not simply filled with general suggestions but intricate, specific instructions as to the many changes Welles wished to make to bring the film in line with his artistic vision. The memo itself reflects the unique approach employed by Welles towards his art, and better explains the greatness of his other films, most notably Citizen Kane, in addition to this film noir classic.
Like many of the Criterion Collection films, this is truly an important classic film. It is a film that should be seen and appreciated for its tremendous role in the launching of the film noir genre and influence on so many contemporary films. Beyond that, it is an extremely enjoyable film. While the presence of both versions on the same DVD would more greatly accentuate the changes suggested by Welles, this version stands well on its own, and is definitely worth checking out.