Reconstructing Evil


Orson Welles’ 1958 psychological and visual masterpiece Touch of Evil has been reshaped and reconstituted with no less frequency than an Alfred Hitchcock film in the hands of a feminist.

The film – which brought us those great “screen lovers” Mexican-American cop Vargas (Chariton Heston) and swampy, I-am-your-worst-nightmare Quinlan (Welles) — was taken from Welles by Universal and re-edited by others. If ever there was a docu up to the task of making sense of Evil’s long (sometimes dirty-handed) re-editing history, this stellar piece of film history from Universal is it.

Writer-director-producer Laurent Bouzereau knows the importance of context: Evil’s restoration history doesn’t emerge until this docu’s closing segment. Most important is Evil’s fascinating shooting history. Wellesian tidbits: shooting took place on the streets and canals of Venice, Calif. – not the Mexican border. Marlene Dietrich (among others) was in front of the cameras before producers knew she was hired.

In-depth interviews with Janet Leigh, Heston, Dennis Weaver and Valentin De Vargas (he played the Mexican hood), along with the new re-editing team, including Rick Schmidlin and Walter Murch, are illuminating.

Heston says Welles left the film in the midst of postproduction (a big mistake). Because of that, Evil was taken from him and the studio inserted new scenes to supposedly make the film’s narrative easier to follow. The new Evil – reconstructed using a 58-page letter Welles sent to Universal — loses those un-Wellesian connecting scenes.

Among other wrongs now righted: Universal overlaid opening credits and a Henry Mancini theme (they’re now gone) instead of the source music Welles intended (it’s back) for the long opening shot. Welles’ original intentions are reflected in this 1998 version, which screens immediately following this docu.

It’s been a long, winding road, as this very smart act of recovery reminds us.

The Hollywood Reporter, June 4-6, 1999


Add comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Posts

Recent Comments



Get in touch

Quickly communicate covalent niche markets for maintainable sources. Collaboratively harness resource sucking experiences whereas cost effective meta-services.