Cops and Robber Cops
Although contemporary to 1958, Touch of Evil looks and feels wholly modern. Elaborate, showy camerawork belies the typically static, staged ‘50s era style, predicting an era of drone cinemtaography decades before it were possible through an outrageously complex single take opening. Intensity-driven close-ups swoon over sweaty, stressed faces, and cramped rooms – not sets – keep everyone forcibly trapped with one another.
Underneath Orson Welles’ distinctive filmmaking sensibilities is a b-tier noir, yet enveloped by enthralling performances and a socially antagonistic, rebellious tone. Other than dated fears over marijuana, Touch of Evil’s back-and-forth tussle concerning international jurisdiction, turning the depressed, chain-smoking American cop into a villain, plays as if it were written today.
Touch of Evil connects to themes of choice, fate, and direction. Hank Quinlan (Welles) manifests as a stock detective people adore on primetime TV, the ones who slap the accused, and take down criminals by planting evidence, anything to ensure sketchy people end up imprisoned. But he’s crude, racist, and alcoholic, yet the “yes” men around him swoon for these methods; they find his masculine grit idealist.
The hero is a Mexican, Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston), whose style lack the same one-liner delivery, and takes longer to root out the people behind a car bombing. That’s not what people want – it doesn’t make headlines or the detectives involved celebrities. Vargas isn’t complex, just a man out to do right and save his wife. He’s less interesting, a simple cinematic protagonist whose core value to the narrative is nationality (Heston playing a Mexican an unfortunate aside).
Welles, in contrast, plays a heavy with ambition, made complex through the character’s crassness and a grisly past. Ego drives him. Fear gives him power. Facts matter not. Yet he’s broken, like most men in similar authoritative positions. He lacks any actual policing skill, churning out “successful” cases by the dozens to hide bury a long-simmering depression. That, or he drinks. Anyone diminishing that public persona is arrested, or worse, they die.
It’s crude on paper, yet boisterous in execution. Welles doesn’t hide any feelings in his work, a rare fearless filmmaker whose output, even when altered by the studio as in Touch of Evil’s case, doesn’t betray the animosity toward the American perspective of law enforcement (even with a border squabble), same as Citizen Kane destroyed the myth of newspaper moguls.
Flawlessly digitized film stock highlights Kino’s elaborate UHD release, capturing the precise grain structure sans any compression faults. Other than a dust speck in places (mostly during scene transitions), the print doesn’t reveal faults, and resolution remains consistent. Complex cinematography favors wavering focus, and that naturally limits detail. When on point though, it’s gloriously precise. Texture flows from the frame, revealing the messy locations, facial detail, and whatever else this camera negative originally captured.
Dripping with deep noir aesthetics, Touch of Evil sees tremendous benefit from this Dolby Vision pass. Outstanding shadows drape every shot, invigorating depth, bringing more dimension to the film than the exotic camerawork does already. Bold contrast matches, intense when popping from pure blacks, yet cautious as to not clip. That careful mastering offers significant life to this presentation. It’s marvelous.
Capable mono preserves the dialog intact. It’s naturally worn if perfectly rendered. Preservation and restoration negate hissing or pops.
A jazzy score is represented by clean horns, the treble stable, holding together even at peaks. There’s no range to speak of, although drum beats and bass smoothly flow from the DTS-HD track.
Three (!) 4K discs come inside the package. Beginning with the theatrical cut, historian Tim Lucas provides one commentary. The second comes from filmmaker F.X. Feeney. On the preview version disc, an older 20-minute featurette sits alone in the bonus menu, but drop to the audio option for a commentary featuring Welles’ historians Johnathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore.
Finally, alongside the reconstructed cut, a 17-minute featurette detailing the studio’s requests and various additions. Then, two MORE commentaries, the first with Imogen Sara Smith, the second with Heston, Leigh, and producer of this version, Rick Schmidlin.
Touch of Evil
Touch of Evil’s exotic, groundbreaking camerawork is matched by eccentric, b-level noir storytelling that’s wholly captivating and still distinctly modern.
User Review( votes)
The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 42 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: