Double Face (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Aug 13, 2019
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Double Face (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Riccardo Freda

Release Date(s)

1969 (June 25, 2019)

Studio(s)

Colt Produzioni Cinematografiche/Mega Film/Rialto Film (Arrow Video)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: B+

Double Face (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

A combination of the krimi and giallo subgenres, both popular in Europe during the 1960s and 1970s, Double Face (aka A doppia faccia) has been available in many different versions since its original Italian release in 1969. The film was billed in Germany as an Edgar Wallace adaptation, of which previous entries had been enormously popular, but was also later re-edited in France to include hardcore sex scenes, heightening the film’s more titillating moments.

The story concerns a businessman named John (Klaus Kinski) and his wife Helen (Margaret Lee) who carry on a fairly loveless marriage as Helen is much more fond of her friend Liz (Annabella Incontrera). She decides to take a vacation without John, but unbeknownst to her, someone has planted a bomb under her car, which leads to a tragic and deadly accident. As John is the sole beneficiary of her assets, he becomes the prime suspect. Soon after, a peculiar girl named Christine (Christiane Krüger) leads John to a party where a recently-made erotic film is being shown and he slowly realizes that one of the participants may be Helen. Haunted by the notion that she might still be alive, he is then torturously led down a path of intrigue, but did John really murder his wife or is all of this a hoax to simply torment him?

Aficionados are likely already familiar with Riccardo Freda (billed here as Robert Hampton) for his efforts Caltiki The Immortal Monster and The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock (as well as putting Mario Bava in the director’s chair on I Vampiri). Helming Double Face (a nonsensical title if ever there was one) was no easy task as he was given a very limited budget and a short amount of time to complete it. Freda and Kinski purportedly did not get along during the production and the script didn’t seem to be finalized before filming was under way, as evidenced by many of the story’s logical lapses. Case in point: Kinski’s character tells his business partner Mr. Brown (Sydney Chaplin – an oddly familiar face to European audiences at that time) that he is going to take some time away to help get over the death of his wife, yet later on tells investigators that his vacation consisted of revisiting places that he and his wife had been to together.

Certain aspects of the film are done well, including its look and its performances. Klaus Kinski is actually given a more interesting role to play, as opposed to the villainous parts he was usually hired for (not to mention being tossed into films simply for the marquee value – a frequent occurrence in the days before working with Werner Herzog). He’s quite restrained, and while others may accuse him of appearing stiff, he comes across contextually as a man attempting to hold back the paranoia and emotion boiling up inside of him, only occasionally allowing them to slip out. It’s not an ideal role for Kinski, but it’s certainly a change of pace. On the other hand, a flashback moment of John and Helen during a ski trip, as well as scenes involving car crashes, reveal the limitations of the film’s special effects budget, which looks to have been either incredibly low or constrained by time, or both.

As for the film’s actual plot, it has its ups and down. It’s certainly engrossing early on, but as the story gets underway, the outcome becomes more transparent than usual. Does this mean that Double Face isn’t a worthwhile effort? Far from it. Considering just how little time and money were put into it, it's a wonder that the film works at all and looks as good as it does (thanks in no small part to cinematographer Gábor Pogány (Valdez is Coming and Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii).

Arrow Video brings Double Face to Blu-ray for the first time in its original Italian and English versions, which are identical outside of their languages (as well as their opening and closing credits). They’re featured in a new 2K transfer of the original 35mm camera negative in their original aspect ratio 1.85:1. It’s a mostly dazzling presentation with a solid grain structure and a lush color palette, the latter bursting with a variety of bold hues. The levels of depth and clarity are remarkable, particularly on backgrounds and during darkly lit moments, not to mention in close-ups. Blacks are deep with potent shadow detail while brightness and contrast levels are virtually perfect. Everything appears clean and stable, aside from the occasional use of stock footage, as well as a couple of truly awful blue screen opticals, which are the weakest areas of an otherwise spotless and sumptuous transfer.

The audio is included in both English and Italian mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH (which are selected automatically for the Italian track). Sync is a little loose, as to be expected, but dialogue exchanges are clear and precise, though slightly louder on the Italian track. Nora Orlandi’s score has been given an enormous boost in clarity, though sound effects are rather dated. Extremely light hiss is present on both soundtracks, but is more pronounced on the Italian track. There are also no instances of leftover crackle, distortion, or dropouts.

Bonus materials include another new fantastic audio commentary by the always entertaining and informative author and film historian Tim Lucas, who takes more of a visual essay approach rather than a traditional scene-specific commentary; The Many Faces of Nora Orlandi, a new 44-minute video appreciation of the film’s composer by musician and soundtrack collector Lovely Jon; 7 Notes for a Murder, a new 33-minute interview with composer Nora Orlandi; The Terrifying Dr. Freda, a new 20-minute video essay on Riccardo Freda’s work by author and critic Amy Simmons; a set of 3 image galleries, including 3 images from a German pressbook, 27 images from a set of German promotional materials, and a 61-page re-creation of the film’s Italian cineromanzo (a pictorial adaptation); the original English and Italian theatrical trailers; and a 24-page insert booklet with cast and crew information, the essay A Bastard Child: Double Face by Neil Mitchell, and restoration details.

A relatively minor entry into the Italian filmmaking world, Double Face is no masterpiece, but offers up enough cinematic value for several other films with similar restrictions. Arrow Video’s presentation is top of the line, and with a Tim Lucas audio commentary to accompany it, it’s certainly a disc worthy of your attention.

– Tim Salmons

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