Friday, October 16, 2009

Revival: Touch of Evil

A beautiful archival print of the restored version of TOUCH OF EVIL will be played as the Charles Theatre's revival for this week.

Saturday, October 17 at Noon
Monday, October 19 at 7 pm
Thursday, October 22 at 9 pm

1958 Orson Welles. Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Dennis Weaver, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Mercedes McCambridge, Keenan Wynn, Joseph Cotten. bw. 111 minute restored version from 1998.

After seeing the work print of his last Hollywood feature, Orson Welles wrote a lengthy memo requesting several changes in editing and sound—work that was carried out in 1998 by producer Rick Schmidlin and editor Walter Murch with myself as consultant. About the original 95-minute 1958 release (superseded since the mid-70s by a 108-minute preview version), Dave Kehr wrote, “Eternal damnation to the wretch at Universal who printed the opening titles over the most brilliant establishing shot in film history—a shot that establishes not only place and main characters in its continuous movement over several city blocks, but also the film's theme (crossing boundaries), spatial metaphors, and peculiar bolero rhythm.” These titles now appear at the film's end—yielding a final running time of 111 minutes—and in the opening shot Henry Mancini's music comes exclusively from speakers in front of the nightclubs and from a car radio. Other changes involve different sound and editing patterns and a few deletions, all of which add up to a narrative that's easier to follow, but there's no new or restored footage. To quote Kehr again, “Welles stars as the sheriff of a corrupt border town who finds his nemesis in visiting Mexican narcotics agent Charlton Heston; the witnesses to this weirdly gargantuan struggle include Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, Akim Tamiroff, and Joseph Calleia, who holds the film's moral center with sublime uncertainty.” (Jonathan Rosenbaum)

"Touch of Evil is a sensational calling card Welles is almost touchingly eager to demonstrate what he can do. The dialogue is as intricately overlapped as the lighting is cross-hatched; the cameos are as vivid as possible in a black-and-white movie; the camera work and blocking have the coordination of an Olympic pole vaulter. The very first day of shooting, Welles choreographed an astoundingly efficient 12-minute expository shot in which his camera glided from room to room to room while an assortment of cops, lawyers, and suspects pace in and out, yelling, fencing, and looking for evidence. ("Twelve pages in one take," Heston noted in his journal that night.)....Unable to shoot on location in Tijuana, Welles came up with a wonderful alternative (and an implicit metaphor for Hollywood) by using the once fashionable seaside neighborhood of Venice a designed community which, after oil was discovered there in 1927, deteriorated from a fantasy Europe to a wide-open sailor town to a beatnik slum of scummy canals and crumbling colonnades. As Welles's set, the place has no normal life. It has been imbued with the sinister clutter of a derelict amusement park tattered posters, windblown detritus, cars careening through the empty streets."
- J. Hoberman

"A disreputable classic whose brave sensibility more than matches its towering bravura." (Michael Sragow)
Read Michael Sragow on Touch of Evil

"Marvellously garish...a terrific entertainment...
the cast is assembled as perversely as in a nightmare."
- Pauline Kael