New DVDs: Touch of Evil

Well, I wrote about “Risky Business” and “The Last Laugh” this week, but the sentiment of the group seems to be that we all want to vent about the “Touch of Evil” 50th anniversary edition, with its highly controversial 1.85 aspect ratio. There’s clearly no cut and dried answer here, in the absence of any documentary evidence, but my eye tells me that it’s too tight. The shot above shows some obvious trimming at the upper frame line, but for the most part the 1.85 version that Universal has released seems to give preference to head room while cutting out the less conspicuous compositional elements at the bottom of the frame. It all feels a bit tenuous and unstable to me, like a chord that hasn’t quite been allowed to resolve itself.

Nicolas Saada has asked me to post the remarks below, with video links that wouldn’t work in the comments thread:

“Dave, here is a link to a clip from the original Touch of Evil (the
1976 version). Some Italian guy taped it from tv and put it there.
Watch the Universal logo.

Now watch the so called “Welles version”:

What’s interesting is to see the actual “full frame” of the restoration. Those grey bars are used to mask the original 1:33 ratio and stretch it to 1:78

Dave if you open two windows of your safari browser, you can watch the clips simultaneously. It’s a shock.

Now, here’s another shocking one. This Italian guy has fun comparing the dubbed version of the 1958 release and the 1998 re-release.

An Italian clip from the 1976 version

and of the “restored” nonsense

To fit the square screen, this guy had to compress the image artificially from the “stretched” version of the DVD

This drives me nuts Dave. TOE is a film that I know by heart, every line, since I first saw it in 1982, aged 17. It’s such a landmark for me and this new version is a disaster.”

511 comments to New DVDs: Touch of Evil

  • Ben

    Comment number 501. Wow!

    Good suggestion Miguel.

  • nicolas saada

    Well, for instance, Hitchcock said he had shot North By Northwest in VISTAVISIOn, which was a Paramount widescreen process for a while. MGM was using Cinemascope at the time but North by Northwest is the only film they released in Vistavision. Since no Vistavision equipment remained in teh sixties and seventies, we always saw the film 1:37 until it was matted 1:85 in the late nineties. The question is : is 1:85 the best way to see a VISTAVISION film ?

  • Miguel Marías

    Nicolas, I think both John Ford (at WB) for The Searchers and Hitchcock (at MGM) for North by Northwest used VistaVision because of its neatness (I’d say unsurpassed even by Panavision) and its AR, which could be Academy or rather 1.85. And I think both these films should be seen in 1.85. In The Searchers, there are shots (first sequence alone) which in 1.33 exclude for no reason several Edwards family members which are in the frame in 1.85; and in 1.33 you can see booms. Both seem composed for 1.85, although can be understood as narratives in 1.33, which is not the same thing as watched and analyzed.
    Miguel Marías

  • nicolas saada

    agreed, but is 1/85 really the right ratio ? How about 1:66 ? Not for the films you mentioned but in regard to the particular case of TOUCH OF EVIL. Moreover Welles’ two following films after TOE were shown in 1:66.

  • Rich Deming

    “Well, for instance, Hitchcock said he had shot North By Northwest in VISTAVISIOn, which was a Paramount widescreen process for a while. MGM was using Cinemascope at the time but North by Northwest is the only film they released in Vistavision. Since no Vistavision equipment remained in teh sixties and seventies, we always saw the film 1:37 until it was matted 1:85 in the late nineties. The question is : is 1:85 the best way to see a VISTAVISION film ?”
    ________________________________________________

    I’m not following your train of thought. Why should we care about how a re-released film was shown?

    Are you suggesting that films should be projected incorrectly because they were projected in a different manner than the filmmakers intended?

    As for the intended aspect ratio of VV films:

    http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/wingvv1.htm

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘Why should we care about how a re-released film was shown?’

    In Japan movies shot in 1:33 was re-released cropped in early 1960s. Not how director intended the movie to be seen, so important for people to complain to studio and exhibitor not to show the movie cropped. Today, 1:33 aspect ratio movies is shown the right way because people made the complaint.

    Isn’t 1:85 right aspect ratio for VistaVision?

    One time seeing 1956 TV documentary about THE SEARCHERS on laser disc extra material, it can be seen that John Ford was using Mitchell camera and not VistaVision camera for one scene, during attack on Scar’s Indian village. Pointed out by cinematographer to me when seeing.

  • ctufilms

    VistaVision has a negative full area around 1.55:1, so any 4×3 version would crop the image.

    “I have the 1987 CBS-FOX Video cassette of ELMER GANTRY, and it’s in glorious 1.33.

    How could the “new” AR match the artist’s preference?”

    I’m not sure why a 1987 CBS-FOX VHS would be considered as any reference point for a film’s AR. Do keep in mind that the 1960 theatrical release came before the VHS tape, which is unlikely to be a correct presentation. By 1960, an American release from United Artists would definitely be at least 1.66:1. Again, once you get past the 1953-1957 era, aspect ratios are ridiculously easy to verify.

  • ctufilms

    Also, MGM produced one VistaVision film before North by Northwest: High Society.

  • Miguel Marías

    I can’t follow this last series of interventions. In the case of The Searchers, North by Northwest (or Vertigo, which I saw quite often since 1968 in the original print and with the original ending that the San Sebastian Film Festival kept)repeatedly watching them theatrically in the 3 “possible” AR makes me think that the correct or best AR is 1.85, since the compositions don’t look “cropped”, you don’t see sound or lightning equipment and let you see important things that otherwise you’d miss. If you need a different, VistaVision camera, I don’t know, and by the way, this opens up a new disquieting possibility: that films shot in one AR were processed and printed in a different AR. Has anyone researched the main Hollywood labs?
    Miguel Marías

  • This is easy guys. Just look at the Universal logo at the opening. Ever see a Universal film where the globe was cut off? Never. Have seen TOE many times in the ’70′s at revival theaters. It was always screened at 1:37. I agree with another post, the artistry is in the framing design.