Monday, November 3, 2008

Heart of Darkness

As much of a genius that Orson Welles was, and the few films he left behind only attest to that, he was a lifetime pain in the ass, a self-styled Don Quixote forever tilting at studio windmills. His absolutely top-notch Touch of Evil (1958, Universal, $26.98 3 discs, 95 minutes, 108 minutes, 118 minutes), a late period noir, sparkling with grit and dripping with the decay of corruption, puts together Charlton Heston (as a Mexican-American cop), Janet Leigh (as the cop’s new bride), and Welles himself (as a corpulent sheriff), along with a batch of regular Welles’ players, in a border town gone bad around the edges. Although the filmmaker had no real budget to speak off, his film is a technical how-to catalogue, and the movie hums along darkly with precise storytelling, evocative camerawork, and superbly dense misc-en-sene. The collection offers three versions for the true film buff or Welles fanatic-the director’s original premier version, the studios truncated version, and a restoration put together in 1998 following Welles's 58-page notes (also included). Although I’m a true sucker for the more languid and baleful entanglements of the pulp fed Chinese jigsaw puzzle of 1948’s The Lady from Shanghai, the more I watch Touch of Evil I realize that it resonates much the same as that earlier gem—as a wonderfully baroque genre exercise, as a black-hearted Wellesian infective, as a technical and artistic treasure (the opening crane shot remains one of the most cool daddy evuh), and a damn fine (and infinitely memorable) movie.

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