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Welles film is restored to intended glory

TELLURIDE, Colo. -- "This is the world premiere of a movie made in 1957," director Peter Bogdanovich said in introducing the first public screening of Orson Welles' restored "Touch of Evil" here Sunday. And in a sense, he was right.

Welles' noir tragicomedy was re-edited by Universal Pictures after he finished it; the studio even shot extra scenes and slapped them in before shipping the movie out as the bottom half of a double bill.

"When I saw the film in 1957, I thought it was . . . a little lacking," confessed Janet Leigh, one of the stars, who was here for the unveiling of the restored version. "Tonight I could see what we had all worked for."

Welles, whose "Citizen Kane" (1941) was recently voted the greatest American film, never worked in Hollywood again after "Touch of Evil" opened to disappointing business and reviews. After seeing Universal's version of his film, he fired off a 58-page memo detailing the changes he wanted made, but the memo was ignored.

"In 1967," Bogdanovich recalled, "I was working on a book about Welles, and Charlton Heston walked into my office with a copy of the memo."

Bogdanovich intended to include the memo in the book, but the memo didn't reach print until Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, a Welles expert, published it in Film Quarterly.

For producer Rick Schmidlin and Oscar-winning editor Walter Murch, the memo was a guide for their painstaking restoration of the film Welles intended. As nearly as possible, they carried out every one of his instructions, and in the version that played here it was easier to follow the plot, which seemed muddled in the earlier version.

The movie takes place in a sleazy Mexican-American border town, where the corrupt local sheriff (Welles) tries to frame a Mexican official (Heston) on a drug and murder charge. The cast is incredibly rich. Leigh plays Heston's new wife, Marlene Dietrich is the local madam, Dennis Weaver is the loony night man at the hotel, and there's even a cameo for Zsa Zsa Gabor. The movie will go into national release this month.

"My husband asked me why in the world I was coming up here for this screening," Leigh told me after the event. "I said that this was something we had started 40 years ago, and it was time to finish it. They cheated Orson. And they cheated us. This is vindication."

The most enchanting film I've seen here this year is "Autumn Tale," by Eric Rohmer, the French director who has great warmth and curiosity and watches patiently as people work out their romantic destinies. He is one of my favorite directors anyway, but this time he has surpassed himself with the s tory of a 45ish woman (Beatrice Romandi) who runs a vineyard and despairs of ever finding a man - until her friend takes out a personal ad and arranges for her to meet a likely candidate.

That's about all there is to the story, which surrounds the would-be couple with friends, children and rivals. But it is told so lovingly, with such humor and good cheer, that the audience actually applauded once at nothing more than a smile.

Bruce Wagner is a novelist who takes Hollywood lifestyles for his subjects, and now in his first film he has made a hard-edged, involving, very intelligent examination of Hollywood's extended families - extended through divorce, remarriage, affairs and even the quasi-familial relationships with agents and business partners.

"I'm Losing You" stars Frank Langella in a subtle and strong performance as a TV producer and star who learns he has perhaps a year to live. He keeps his death sentence a secret at first from his son (Andrew McCarthy) and adopted daughter (Rosanna Arquette). Meanwhile, their lives spin around other secrets, such as the true story of Arquette's birth parents.

The movie is hip and knowing about the mating and business customs of show business, and touching in the way it shows its characters as human and not just caricatures.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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