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Touch of Evil: Collector's Edition

Touch of Evil: Collector's Edition is a four-star movie on a three-star disc. Universal Home Video has done a lot to make amends for what the studio did to Welles in the late '50s, when Welles shot the film, but frankly it could have done more. What Universal has released is the re-edited or reconstructed version of Touch of Evil on DVD, a follow up to the film's national release in 1998. It's a re-edit, but in a good way, or at least a well-meaning way. Like most of Welles' films, the post-production and release history is enormously complicated. Universal management took Touch of Evil away from Welles and reshot or added some scenes and trimmed the length and added credits over the famous opening shot, among other things. In response to the studio-cut of the film, Welles wrote a 58-page memo that outlined how the film should be cut to his specifications. But the producers refused to cooperate, and in 1958 Universal released a 95-minute version. In 1975, a 108-minute version was discovered, but it proved not quite to be Welles' version, though it was closer. Finally, in the 1990s, producer Rick Schmidlin, collaborating with sound and film editor Walter Murch, altered Touch of Evil to conform, as best they could do it, to Welles' notes, arriving at a 111-minute version. All this is explained in a documentary called Reconstructing Evil which for legal reasons the studio was unable to include on this disc, though it planned to. Almost universally considered a masterpiece, Touch of Evil merits a two-disc set, with Reconstructing Evil added, and with both the 95-minute and the 108-minute versions included. This would give viewers choices, because frankly, despite all the good work that Schmidlin and Murch have put into it, technically it still isn't Welles' film — no matter how closely they followed the memo, they still were interpreting as much as "restoring" something. Also, at a time when most audio commentaries are bogus, here is a film that demands a commentary or two, and Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum — an authority on Welles and this film and a consultant to Schmidlin and Murch — would have been a great choice. Still, in whatever form it comes to us, Touch of Evil remains a great film, and Universal offers a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 2.0. The black-and-white source print is quite good, with only the occasional white speckles and some graininess. Supplements include the original theatrical trailer, the 58-page memo from Welles to Universal studio chief Ed Muhl, some brief production notes, talent files, and Universal promo items. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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