Above I’ve posted a brief excerpt of an interview Orson Welles gave in 1958 after ostensibly seeing “Touch Of Evil” for the first time (at the Belgian World Film Festival no less) since the studio took the film away from him. This is Welles in his pre ”Oja Kodar/swinging 70s/move back to Hollywood to sit at the lunch table at Ma Maison and appear on the Muppets and Merv Griffin’ phase, a period which I always preferred to his middle-period ‘outcast/Euro-based/hotel-hopping/Don Quixote-making/Countess-marrying/’I don’t have the vocation for martyrdom but look at how I’m acting like a martyr anyway’ period (above). The later Welles, in spite of all of the same old problems he always suffered (weight, disrespect, lack of completion funds) is somehow lighter in spirit with a twinkle in his eye that is entirely missing in the middle period. Indeed, in the 50s and early 60s Welles was remorseful, proud, touchy and filled with a tiresome mixture of contempt for the world and contempt for being held accountable for his own actions (or inactions) within it. In the above interview, Welles dismisses the film as ‘not his own’, scolds the Hollywood system for not allowing directors complete freedom and final cut as they do in Europe (did they really though?), ‘regrets’ (with condescension) that the studio took the film from him and in a moment of ‘panic or great excitement’ forgot to invite him to see the finished product. But before he completely closes the door on his career in Hollywood, he allows that the film as it stands is not so different really than the one he intended.
And indeed is isn’t. I awaited the restored ‘Touch Of Evil’ as eagerly as anyone else but I might as well be blunt about it: for my money the restoration only pointed up the films flaws and increased its running time for no real payout. Dennis Weaver, who is memorably weird and eccentrically cast, simply becomes silly and overbearing with his additional footage. And I’m sorry but I miss the Mancini music and the cool font of the credits playing over the opening shot. While it’s certainly interesting to see the shot shorn of credits in all its clinical one-take glory, it somehow feels less seductive and more show-offy than when played with the credits over it. While we’re at it, let me go on record (for those of you who haven’t already quit reading this post in disgust) and say that ‘Mr. Arkadin’ remains my favorite Welles film, ‘Spartacus’ my favorite Kubrick film and ‘Countdown’ my favorite Altman film. Had Ingmar Bergman accepted Paramounts offer to direct ‘The Great Gatsby’ (apparently it was on the table), that most likely would have been my favorite Bergman. Don’t like it? KMA.