By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 13, 2008)
Touch of Evil (50th Anniversary Edition) – Universal DVD (2-discs)
Yes, this is Orson Welles’ classic 1958 sleaze-noir with that famous opening tracking shot, Charlton Heston as a Mexican police detective, and Janet Leigh in various stages of undress. Welles casts himself as Hank Quinlan, a morally bankrupt police captain who lords over a corrupt border town. Quinlan is the most singularly grotesque character Welles ever created as an actor, and certainly stands as one the most offbeat heavies in all of film noir.
This is also one of the last great roles for Marlene Dietrich, who deadpans some zingers (“You should lay off those candy bars.”). The scene where Leigh is terrorized in an abandoned motel by a group of thugs led by a creepy, leather-jacketed Mercedes McCambridge could have been dreamed up by David Lynch; there are numerous such stylistic flourishes throughout that are light-years ahead of anything else going on in American cinema at the time.
Fans of the film have had to make do with an improperly matted and cropped DVD transfer-until now. Not only have those screen ratio issues been corrected, but we are also given a choice of viewing 3 different cuts in this new edition: the restored and re-edited 1998 version (re-cut to the specifications that Welles had requested in a 58-page memo to the studio that ultimately fell on deaf ears), the original theatrical version, and the preview version (which has a commentary track with Heston and Leigh). With extras galore.