Double Face Blu-ray Review
Arrow Video Blu-ray Release: June 25, 2019
Video: 1.85:1/1080p/Color Audio: English and Italian LPCM 1.0 Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 91 minutes
Director: Riccardo Freda
When wealthy businessman John Alexander’s (the legendary Klaus Kinski, giving an atypically restrained performance) unfaithful wife Helen (Margaret Lee, Circus of Fear) dies in a car crash, it initially looks like a freak accident. However, the plot thickens when evidence arises suggesting that the car was tampered with prior to the crash. And John’s entire perception of reality is thrown into doubt when he discovers a recently-shot pornographic movie which appears to feature Helen – suggesting that she is in fact alive and playing an elaborate mind game on him… (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
At the peak of their popularity, gialli were an implicitly Italian genre. Even when they weren’t being made by Italian crews, the people behind them were trying to recreate the tones and imagery of Italian filmmakers. However, the edges of the gialli’s strongest run (arguably 1964 to 1975) were frayed by the influence of bygone and incoming genres. The latter half of the ‘70s, for instance, saw films like Sergio Martino’s Suspicious Death of a Minor (Italian: Morte sospetta di una minorenne, 1975) incorporate aspects of the equally Italian-flavored poliziotteschi (Eurocrime) movies, while ‘80s releases, Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper (Italian: Lo squartatore di New York, 1982), for example, drew inspiration from North America’s blood ‘n guts slashers. The earliest days of the giallo boom, however, came off the heels of Germany’s krimi fad (an abbreviation of either kriminalfilm or kriminalroman) and ended up integrating a number of that genre’s key elements. Krimi were, by and large, either based on Edgar Wallace stories or fashioned to make audiences believe they were based on Wallace’s novels. Wallace had died in 1932, but, in 1959, he had a surprising career resurgence in West Germany, prompted by Danish production company Rialto Film and producer Preben Philipsen’s film The Fellowship of the Frog (German: Der Frosch mit der Maske), directed by Harald Reinl and based on Wallace’s novel of the same name (1925). Wallace had been a mainstay of the German screen since the silent era, but the fervor surrounding the Rialto films (and, to a lesser extent, the more comic-booky movies from producer Harry Alan Towers) was hereto unheard of.
The krimi movement was built on Reini’s stylistic choices as much as Wallace’s literary trademarks, but only Wallace’s plot points really stuck around as the gialli – a form that was (arguably) born only a handful of years later with Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (Italian: La ragazza che sapeva troppo; aka: Evil Eye, 1963) – began to pick up some of the waning krimi slack. Whereas giallo progenitors were also often fans of Wallace (Dario Argento in particular), the genre quickly gained fame for its flamboyant set-pieces and opulent color photography – going back to Reini and company’s stark black & white motifs probably wasn’t in the cards. One film that managed to split the difference with relative grace was Riccardo Freda’s Double Face (Italian: A doppia faccia; German: Das Gesicht im Dunkeln, 1969). Freda was one of the architects of Italian horror/fantasy cinema, having co-directed the first sound (i.e., non-silent) horror movie, I Vampiri (1957), with Bava (as cinematographer, Bava took over with only two days remaining as director after Freda left, following an argument with producers). He wasn’t known for his work in gialli, but his impact would be felt via his other gothic thrillers, like The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (Italian: L'Orribile Segreto del Dr. Hichcock, 1962), and continued association with Bava meant he would have a hand in their creation.
Double Face was Freda’s first attempt at colorful gialli antics, followed closely by the slightly superior, more standard-issue Italian thriller, The Iguana with a Tongue of Fire (Italian: L'iguana dalla lingua di fuoco, 1971), and not so closely by his final film as director, Murder Obsession (aka: Murder Syndrome, 1981). For this early attempt, Freda seems to have been channelling his friend Bava, more than any other pre-1970 giallo filmmaker, given the film’s rich palette, gothic trappings, and emphasis on haute couture fashions, though he also taps what would become an extensive psychedelic genre component – as exemplified by Giulio Questi’s Death Laid an Egg (Italian: La morte ha fatto l'uovo, 1968) and Elio Petri’s (arguably non-giallo) A Quiet Place in the Country (Italian: Un tranquillo posto di campagna, 1968). Minus Bava, who did the special effects for the movies the two collaborated on, Freda’s technical abilities are sometimes lacking; not so much in terms of camera work (minus some very awkward zooms), but definitely where compositing and the incorporation of stock footage is concerned. For his part, Freda brings his inherent sense of gothic spookiness to the London streets and hallucinatory scenes of grimey counter culture hangouts, creating an interesting middle ground between Bava’s measured beauty and the kind of extreme psychedelia seen in Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (Italian: Una lucertola con la pelle di donna; aka: Schizoid, 1971). The one thing that’s really missing here is the elaborate violence that had already begun to define the early gialli. Freda injects loads of nudity, but nary a droplet of blood.
The German posters were plastered with Wallace’s name and claimed the film was based on the novel The Face in the Night (aka: The Diamond Men or The Ragged Princess, 1924), which was a common tactic – the German poster for Umberto Lenzi’s Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (Italian: Sette orchid macchiate di rosso, 1972), for example, features Wallace’s name in a bigger font than the actual title, despite the author having nothing to do with the production. Similarly, the plot here has little to nothing in common with the book the ads quoted. The script is credited to Freda and Austrian writer Paul Hengge, while the story treatment was written by none other than Lucio Fulci with later script-doctoring from Romano Migliorini and Gianbattista Mussetto. True to form, Fulci did not like what Freda and the other writers did to his story and said as much to anyone who asked. Not coincidentally, Fulci’s own giallo debut, Perversion Story (Italian: Una Sull'altra; aka: One on Top of the Other, 1969), hit Italian theaters only one month after Double Face. The story is told in a Wallace-esque fashion in terms of its structure and early use of narration (rare, but not unheard of in gialli), but the plot owes much more to French director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique (1955), though with the gender roles somewhat reversed, and a tiny bit to Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (1966, both films mentioned were popular touchstones for gialli and it’s possible that Clouzot’s movie influenced some of the krimi as well). In the tradition of Wallace, Raymond Chandler, and Arthur Conan Doyle, the storyline is convoluted and implausible, but many of its twists and turns aren’t as far-fetched as what soon characterized the post-Argento gialli.
Most readers might assume that star Klaus Kinski came part and parcel with the krimi side of the production and you’d be correct. His clout as an actor was tied to dozens of Wallace and “Wallace-adjacent” krimis, including, but not limited to, The Avenger (German: Der Rächer, 1960), Dead Eyes of London (German Die toten Augen von London, 1961), The Devil's Daffodil (German: Das Geheimnis der gelben Narzissen, 1961), Secret of the Red Orchid (German: Das Rätsel der roten Orchidee, 1962), and The Black Abbot (German: Der schwarze Abt, 1963), not to mention Harry Alan Towers-produced non-krimi Wallace adaptations. However, by 1969, Kinski may have been a bigger star in Italy than he was in Germany, following stints in influential spaghetti westerns, such as Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More (Italian: Per qualche dollaro in più, 1965) and Damiano Damiani’s A Bullet for the General (Italian: Quién sabe?, 1967), among others. Kinski is actually quite mellow and somewhat fragile in the role of a victim whose psychosis is used against him as part of an elaborate scheme. He’s not exactly cast against type, because his uncanny appearance and sense of drama fit the character, but this probably isn’t the version of Kinski that B-movie enthusiasts are used to or looking for.
Double Face was released on censored VHS tape from Unicorn in North America, but the only DVD versions I can find info on are R2, anamorphic, German-only releases from Universum Films and a grey market, English-friendly disc from Alfa Digital. Arrow’s disc is the first high definition disc available in any region. The original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 2K and restored by L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy. Grading and additional restoration was done at R3Store Studios in London under Arrow’s supervision. The results are very impressive and match many of the studio’s best efforts. Freda and cinematographer Gábor Pogány’s moody, often dark compositions are clean and neatly separated, but not at the expense of film grain. Key colors, such as rich reds, warm skin tones, and beige clothing are consistent and appear accurate, given the movie’s age and apparent stylistic goals. The darkest sequences tend to have a blue tint, but, again, this rarely ‘damages’ the purity of the important hues. That said, some of the blacks seen during daylight scenes do take on a crushy blue quality. Pogány utilizes a lot of flat focus, leading to clear and (mostly) tight details. When he and Freda opt for something a bit more dynamic and deep-set, such as the low-lit street stalking sequence pictured in the fourth screen cap, the image really pops.
This Blu-ray includes both the original English and Italian audio with an option to view the film with either English or Italian titles/credits. Both tracks have been restored alongside the image and are presented in uncompressed LPCM 1.0 mono audio. As per usual, the film was shot without sound and dubbed into various languages for international release. There is no “official” language soundtrack. In this case, I suppose a German dub would’ve been a nice additional option, as Kinski likely dubbed his own performance (the vocal match to Kinski’s face is iffy in both dubs), but, regardless, the actors, including Kinski, appear to have been speaking English on set. As often happens, the two tracks are very similar, complete with matching (though extremely limited) sound effects. The aural differences boil down to the English track sounding more tonally even, but somewhat muffled, and the Italian track having wider range, but an overly sharp high end. The soundtrack is credited to pop/jazz/classical pianist/singer/composer Nora Orlandi. The title piano theme sets a perfect tone with its slightly avant-garde chamber quality and is later supported by electric guitar stings and a genuinely eerie Moog keyboard motifs. Other music includes a repeated pop song sung by Orlandi herself and a psychedelic rock song called “Non Dirmi Una Bugia,” credited to Silvie Saint Laurent.
Commentary with Tim Lucas – The Video Watchdog editor/critic and author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark (Video Watchdog, 2007) does a typically fine job of discussing the making of the film, recalling the careers of its cast & crew, and contextualizing everything within its era. He also knows far more about the krimi and Freda than myself.
The Many Faces of Nora Orlandi (43:28, HD) – An extensive new featurette/appreciation on the career composer Nora Orlandi by musician/soundtrack collector Lovely Jon. The discussion covers Orlandi’s early life, her family and other collaborators, and her varied career as a composer, singer, musician, and, eventually movie soundtrack standby. It includes clips from performances and some films.
7 Notes for a Murder (32:18, HD) – A new interview with Orlandi herself, who digs further into her musical lineage and work while sitting at a piano, so that she’s able to offer prompt examples of what she’s talking about.
The Terrifying Dr. Freda (19:53, HD) – A new video essay on Freda’s gialli, pre-giallo thrillers, and horror movies, hosted by author and critic Amy Simmons, who writes for Sight & Sound, Time Out London, BFI, and Senses of Cinema. It features footage from each film.
Image galleries – The original German pressbook, German promo materials, and the complete Italian cineromanzo adaptation.
Italian and English theatrical trailers
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Full-sized versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab. Note that there will be some JPG compression.