Touch of Evil (1958)

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Released 18-Nov-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Theatrical Trailer-2:11
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1958
Running Time 106:10
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (55:59) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Orson Welles

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Charlton Heston
Janet Leigh
Orson Welles
Joseph Calleia
Akim Tamiroff
Joanna Cook Moore
Ray Collins
Dennis Weaver
Valentin de Vargas
Mort Mills
Victor Millan
Marlene Dietrich
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Henry Mancini

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Touch of Evil is another example of a film that was taken away from its director and recut at the behest of "the studio". In this case, the director was Orson Welles. He was not involved in the recut (and the additional footage that was shot for the recut), but he did get a chance to see the film before release, and he wrote a 58 page memo about it, suggesting how the film might be altered to improve it. His suggestions were not followed at the time, and the film was released in 1958. In the 1990s, his memo surfaced, and a team attempted to create a version of the film that was as close as possible to Welles' original vision. This is that restored version.

    Although much is made of this being a complete restoration, it is not, and can not, be completely faithful to Welles' memo, because they could not shoot any new footage (it being 40 years since the film was made), and the out-take footage had been destroyed. But they did their best, and the results are really quite interesting.

    I do wish this disc included both the released film and the restored version — it would be valuable to be able to compare them. The other significant extra they could have included (and it is included on the Region 1 disc) is a copy of Orson Welles' memo. Having the memo and both versions would have been really cool. Unfortunately we'll have to wait for a possible re-release for that: this disc only offers us the restored version.

    The story is not a simple one. It is set on the border between the USA and Mexico — there's a town on each side. We open seeing a bomb being put into the trunk (that's Amurrican for "boot") of a large convertible. A man and woman get into the car and drive off. Another man and woman are strolling in the evening air. They pass the car, which has been stopped by traffic. Then the car catches up to them at the border, where they have been stopped by the border personnel. We learn that the strolling couple are newly-weds; she is an American, Susie (Janet Leigh), while he is Mexican, Miguel 'Mike' Vargas (Charlton Heston, looking distinctly un-Mexican) — we also learn that he is connected with the arrest and prosecution of a member of the Grandi family on narcotics charges. The car passes through the checkpoint, goes a little further and explodes on the American side.

    The investigation into the murder is led by police Captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles), a cop with a large reputation (and a waistline to match). He and Vargas don't get along from their very first meeting. This could have a lot to do with the fact that Quinlan comes across as a racist, or perhaps it's just that he seems to be guarding his turf. He's a bit of a thug, and shows a rather brutal way with a Mexican suspect.

    Meanwhile, Susie has been lured away from her hotel by a youth, and meets a man who introduces himself as Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff — actually Russian, but better at appearing Mexican than Charlton Heston). She acquits herself well in the ensuing confrontation, but we learn afterwards that he has a much deeper plan, and all he wanted to do was unsettle her.

    The story is more than a little confusing at times, but it involves a number of conflicts, with Vargas vs Quinlan and Vargas vs Grandi being the primary ones. Grandi's plot is a rather nasty one, revolving around ruining Vargas' reputation. Vargas comes across as a bit hot-headed (at least where his wife is concerned), and rather idealistic, so his reputation (and that of his wife) is important to him. The conflict between Vargas and his wife does not play well — it's easy to understand Welles' concern about this aspect of the film.

    Marlene Dietrich and Zsa Zsa Gabor are equally credited as guest stars, but Ms Gabor only gets a single line, while Marlene Dietrich is a significant character.

    It really is interesting to see this version of the film, but it feels like half the story. I missed seeing the original cut in the cinema (mainly because I hadn't been born...), so I can't compare this one with the original release. Nonetheless, this is quite a decent film, and worth seeing.

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Transfer Quality


    This DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced. That matches the original theatrical aspect ratio; this film was one of the earlier wide-screen releases.

    I know some people don't like black-and-white films, so I guess I should point out that this film is black-and-white. Don't let that put you off, though: some of the best films ever made are black-and-white.

    The picture is a little soft, but there are some reasonably sharp close-ups, of men, at least — it shows its age in the use of soft focus for early close-ups of Marlene Dietrich and Janet Leigh. Shadow detail shows some limitation, but there is more detail than one might expect. There is always some light film grain, but it is never a problem. There is no low-level noise.

    Blacks are solid black (no noise), whites are quite light (almost white), and there is quite a range of greys in-between. There are no signs of false-colour effects.

    There are a few small film artefacts, but this film has been rather well restored. There are white spots at 42:46 and 50:32, a black one at 66:15, and a few others. There appear to be a few frames missing at 66:16. The camera shot at 51:52 is very shaky.

    There is some aliasing, but no moiré, and minimal shimmer. There are no MPEG artefacts.

    There are subtitles in English and ten other languages. I only watched the English subtitles. They have been shot in an unusual and attractive font that's really easy to read. They are well-timed, and mostly accurate (I spotted a few mistakes, with the most obvious being the use of "principle" instead of "principal" at 69:47).

    The disc is single sided and dual layered, formatted RSDL. The layer change is roughly midway, at 55:59. It is in the middle of a scene, but comes at a natural pause, so it's not too obvious on players that change layers quickly; on a slower player it is visible.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The soundtrack is only provided in English. It is Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192kbps, but it's mono. This is a fairly low fidelity soundtrack, with negligible bass, but there isn't a lot of noise, save for some distortion at 49:19, and some crackle at 61:56.

    The dialogue is mostly fairly clear, but a lot of it is not very well done. Audio sync is often out, visibly, but never by more than a fraction of a second. The most likely explanation is that a great many lines were ADRed, and without enough care. Some of the dialogue comes across as unnatural speech-making. There are references to some of this in Welles' memo.

    The score comes from the famous Henry Mancini. It is not his best work, but it's not bad. Welles insisted that the music seem to be coming from sources obvious on the sets: jukebox, car radio, motel sound system — this is quite effective.

    This soundtrack makes no use of the rears or subwoofer. You'll either get the same sound from both front speakers, or purely from the centre channel (if you have ProLogic processing active).

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The menu is static and silent.

Theatrical Trailer (2:11)

    This trailer has been made to match the film as released, which is why it doesn't completely suit the film on this disc. It's not very good quality, but it is in reasonable shape for a trailer from 1958.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 version was released some time back, at the end of 2000. The transfer is not as good as the Region 4 disc, looking somewhat harsher, which may be attributable to it being NTSC and just a single layer, but the difference between the two is not huge. The subtitles on the R1 don't use the unusual font of the R4, but they are equally easy to read, and about as accurate, except that they subtitle the Spanish as well as the English. The real difference between the R1 and the R4 lies in the extras.

    The Region 4 is missing:

    The Region 1 is missing:

    I really would like to see a new version of this disc made, providing both versions of the film. For now, it's a choice between having the extras (including the memo, which makes very interesting reading), or having the better transfer. It's a tough call, but I'm giving it to the R1.


    A film with a troubled past, given a decent transfer to DVD.

    The video quality is about as good as it can be, given the age and quality of the source materials.

    The audio quality is not good, but is probably about as good as it can be.

    The extra is minimal, and a real disappointment compared with the Region 1.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

Other Reviews NONE
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