I review the new Touch of Evil: 50th Anniversary Edition DVD on Turner Classic Movies:
Orson Welles hadn’t directed a film in Hollywood in almost ten years when he was offered the reins of Touch of Evil, a budget-minded crime potboiler that Universal was prepping for production. It wasn’t even Universal Studios’ intention to have Welles direct; they only wanted him for the supporting role of a corrupt American detective whose investigation of a murder on the stateside line of the Mexican-American border soon becomes tangled between the two countries. It was, by all accounts, the film’s leading man, Charlton Heston, who suggested that Welles direct. “It genuinely seemed to strike them as a radical suggestion, as though I’d asked to have me mother direct the picture,” Heston wrote in The Actor’s Life – Journals 1956-1976. But they made the deal and hired Welles, at no extra fee, to rewrite and direct the film. As with The Lady From Shanghai, his last major studio production (he made Macbeth as a low-budget prestige piece for second-tier studio Republic), Welles was handed a pulp thriller and turned a straight commercial assignment into a baroque murder mystery directed with stylistic bravura.
All Universal Studios wanted a routine crime film with star glamour and an uncomplicated happy ending. They ended up with a grandiosely bravura B-movie crime opera, a portrait in corruption and racism in a grimy, tawdry bordertown netherworld straddling a kind of moral no man’s land between Mexico and the U.S.. This was a border where the edges blurred with all the crossings back and forth (it could only have been done in a time before 9/11), and populated with a gallery of grotesques and eccentrics. The film was taken from his hands and re-edited by studio cutters.
Read the complete feature here.
I previously explored the history of the film and the 1998 revision in the essay The Making, Unmaking and Reclamation of Touch of Evil and a collection of interviews on Parallax View (most of them conducted by me in 1998)
Walter Murch (editor of the 1998 revision)
Rick Schmidlin (producer of the 1998 revision)
Bob O’Neil (Universal studios head of preservation and restoration)
I also reviewed the DVD for this site here.