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OPENS SEPTEMBER 18

Long out of favor with the major Hollywood studios, Orson Welles was an unlikely choice to direct Touch of Evil, the moody 1958 effort that turned out to be his last studio picture. When he did get the assignment—by some accounts, it was all a misunderstanding—he shot a dark parable of the struggle between good (embodied by Charlton Heston’s upright Mexican narcotics officer, Vargas) and evil (Welles’ corrupt American cop, Quinlan, pictured) that Paul Schrader dubbed “film noir’s epitaph.” Though he dazzled the cast and crew with his expertly planned long takes, Welles wasn’t allowed to cut the movie. Universal took the final edit away from him, and when Welles saw the studio’s version, he wrote a 58-page memo on how to improve the film. Now re-edit producer Rick Schmidlin and editor Walter Murch have followed Welles’ suggestions to produce a retooled 40th-anniversary version of the movie, which takes place mostly in a seedy Mexican border town (actually Venice, Calif.). Schmidlin and Murch restored the cross-cutting, considered too confusing by Universal, reworked the sound to Welles’ specifications, and deleted some of the scenes shot after Welles left the project. The changes are most obvious in the first half hour, but the entire film seems edgier, and the threat to Vargas’ new bride (Janet Leigh) more palpable. At the Janus, 1660 Connecticut Ave. NW. $7.50. (202) 333-3456. (Mark Jenkins)