Touch of Evil: Limited Edition (Masters of Cinema)

High-definition release of Orson Welles' Hollywood noir is so good it's a crime

Orson Welles’ final foray as a Hollywood director is known as much for the chaos surrounding its release as for the story it tells. A hot, sordid slice of film noir set on the Mexican border and starring Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Welles himself, Touch of Evil was famously re-cut by Universal before its release in 1958.

While we can never hope to see Welles true vision of the film, this marvellous two-disc Blu-ray includes Universal’s initial 109min Preview re-edit of the film that supposedly appalled test audiences, the subsequent re-cut 95min version that was released to cinemas and – best of all – the completely overhauled 110min 1998 reconstruction of the film following Welles’ extensive notes on his vision for the film.

Picture: Not only does this two-disc set include three different cuts of the film, but it also takes into account the ongoing debate about which aspect ratio it was supposed to be shown in. According to an essay dedicated to the subject in the accompanying booklet ‘the film has been projected in cinemas in the 1.85:1, 1.37:1 (open matte) and even 1.66:1 ratios’, with experts spilt over which was Welles’ preferred version. This Blu-ray allows you to choose for yourself on both the 1998 Reconstruction and the 1958 Theatrical Version, by include them in both 1.85:1 and 1.37:1 AVC 1080p encodes (the 1958 Preview is only offered in the 1.85:1 ratio).

1958 Preview (1.85:1)

1958 Theatrical (1.37:1)

1958 Theatrical (1.85:1)

1998 Reconstruction (1.37:1)

1998 Reconstruction (1.85:1)

Enough about the aspect ratios though, let’s move on to the issue of picture quality. I won’t bore you with extensive details about the source material for the different versions (all of which is also covered in the accompanying booklet), but suffice to say that it’s hard to imagine the film has ever looked better since the days that the original negatives were struck. The 1998 Reconstruction has clearly had the most work done on its, resulting in pristine greyscale tones, excellent contrast levels, a natural layer of grain throughout and surprisingly good detailing at times (such as the frills decorating the top of Janet Leigh’s underwear during the close-up of her on the phone in Chapter 11). Print damage is very minimal, limited to small flecks of dirt and sparkles.

The other two versions of the film look pretty comparable with one another. For the most part they exhibit more obvious print damage (tram marks), but a handful of shots (such as the opening tracking shot) actually looks a little sharper than in the 1998 version in places. There are also slight framing differences across the three versions – sometimes a shot is slightly zoomed in on the two 1958 versions, at other times the 1998 version is zoomed in slightly.
Picture rating: 4/5

Audio: There’s not a terrific amount to say about the DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtracks accompanying the five presentations of the film, but that’s only because they all sound pretty comparable. Improvements in richness, tonality and range over previous releases are evident from the start. Background hiss and distortion is all but absent. Dialogue and music are crisp and precise. It’s hard to think what more could you ask from a film of this vintage.
Audio rating: 3/5

Extras: The biggest ‘extra feature’ offered by this two-disc set is the inclusion of five different presentations of the film itself. But even with these hogging so much disc space, Eureka has still found time to include some other treats for cinephiles – kicking off with a quartet of audio commentaries. Re-edit producer Rick Schmidlin provides a solo chat track for the 1.85:1 1998 Reconstruction, while he’s joined by on a track for the 1.33:1 presentation of the same by Janet Leigh and Charlton Heston. Both versions of the 1958 Theatrical release offer up the same commentary by filmmaker and author FX Feeney, while the 1958 Preview cut serves up a chat-track by Orson Welles experts James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum.

If that’s still not enough, the first disc also includes features the theatrical trailer and two retrospective featurettes – the first looking at the making of the film, the second focusing on studio-imposed cuts, Welles’ 58-page response and the eventual 1998 re-edit. As with every Masters of Cinema disc, the set also includes a lengthy booklet packed with essays about the film by the likes of Francois Truffaut, Andre Bazin and Welles himself.
Extra rating: 4/5

We say: Another must-have addition to Eureka’s Masters of Cinema Blu-ray lineup

Eureka!, Region B BD, £25 approx, On sale now