When Orson Welles’ 1958 film noir Touch of Evil was reedited a few years back according to the director’s specifications (outlined in a rediscovered 58-page memo), cineasts and film historians rejoiced: A flawed masterwork could finally be seen the way its creator intended. That said, the average video renter probably won’t notice what’s changed — and not just because legal snafus have prevented Universal Home Video from releasing the hour-long making-of documentary that was supposed to accompany the DVD and boxed editions of the videotape (though you do get to read Welles’ memo on the disc version).
The average renter may not even notice the newly cleaned-up print, in which Russell Metty’s astounding camera work plumbs the depths of moral murk in a corrupt Mexican border town, or the way the celebrated three-minute opening shot is now uncluttered by opening titles. But even the casual viewer may be able to discern that Evil is, like so many other films by the most supremely talented egotist in the history of the medium, about Orson Welles himself. As the jowly, murderous, shockingly bloated police chief Hank Quinlan, Welles still manages to be more sympathetic than the priggish nominal hero played by Charlton Heston, and the scene where fortune-teller Marlene Dietrich reads his cards could stand as the director’s Hollywood epitaph. ”Come on, read my future for me,” he asks. ”You haven’t got any,” she snaps. Just so: Welles never made another studio film. A