At the end of this gaudily dark thriller, Marlene Dietrich says of Orson Welles's just expired character, "He was some kind of a man." She had that right—and Touch of Evil, written and directed by Welles but taken out of his hands and heavily reworked by Universal upon its original, 1958 release, is some kind of a film. Funny, scary and always mesmerizing, it is considered by many film critics and fans to rank second only to Citizen Kane among Welles's works.
Now the movie is being rereleased in a carefully reedited version that brings the 40-year-old film about corruption and murder in a Mexican border town as close as possible to Welles's original conception. If you see this touched-up Touch of Evil—and you should—you will realize that you have seen this movie before. Well, sort of. Evil's famous, three-minute opening crane shot, which in a single, complicated take sets up the film's seedy locale, its leading characters (newlyweds Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh) and a pivotal car bombing, inspired Robert Altman's first scene in The Player and, more recently, Brian De Palma's in Snake Eyes. And remember in Get Shorty when John Travolta mouths the lines to the movie he's watching? It's Touch of Evil. (PG-13)